Ashley Whippet Invitational brings global competition to Naperville

Over Labor Day weekend, Naperville’s Nike Park hosted a four-footed, international competition: the 2019 Frisbee Dog World Championship. The championship is named The Ashley Whippet Invitational. For this year’s invitational, people bring their dogs from all over the world, including countries such as Japan, Canada and the Netherlands. The dogs were scored on two different events: freestyle and toss and catch.

The guest of honor at this years event was Alex Stein, the man who made the sport of Frisbee Dog famous. 

It all started with an illegal eight-minute performance during a Monday night baseball game. On Aug. 5th, 1974, Alex Stein took his dog, Ashley Whippet, onto the LA Dodgers stadium during the seventh inning of the game. He was not invited to perform at the game. Despite this, Stein threw a frisbee to Ashley while the crowd watched, captivated by his ability to jump nine feet into the air. 

Those eight minutes led to Stein being arrested, forcing him to leave Ashley behind at the field. While being held in the cell at Dodger Stadium, the only worry Stein had was the fact that he didn’t know where Ashley was.

Stein realized the impact of the incident when he opened the paper the next day.   

“I open [it] to the sports section, and there was a 4 inch by 6 inch picture of Ashley Whippet, my dog. The caption underneath the picture said, ‘The best part of the baseball game was the dog playing frisbee on the field.’” 

One of the fans at the stadium had picked up Ashley when the two were separated on the field. The pair was reunited three days later. Excited about the success of their show at the baseball game, they went on to perform their talent for many years to follow, ultimately creating the sport known as Frisbee Dog. 

Stein and Ashley’s success in the sport gave them many opportunities. They performed at the halftime show for Super Bowl XII, on the White House lawn, and their passion even carried them to win the Frisbee Dog World Championship three times. The event is now known as the Ashley Whippet Invitational.   

Multi world champion Tracy Custer discussed the process that goes into training both herself and her dogs.  

“To me, it’s more about the bond with the dog. I really just try to have fun and play like we would if we were in the backyard,” Custer said. 

When she was first starting out, Custer struggled with the sport. Through practice and persistence, Custer and her dogs improved, refusing to get discouraged in the process. 

“When I started, I had never thrown a frisbee in my life, and I had stunk at it. I had to go to the park every day at my lunch break with a hundred frisbees and practice my throwing,” Custer said. 

Both Stein and Custer fell in love with a sport that taught them the importance of the connection between an animal and their owner, allowing them to grow closer to their furry friends.

“When you get into it and if you want to be competitive, don’t get too competitive, still make it fun,” Custer said. “ If you put too much into winning it’s not fun for the dog or the owner anymore.”