There is nothing like a little scare to pull your head out of the clouds and make you focus on more important things. And so it was just a few days after the Hyperflite Skyhoundz World Championship that we learned that one of the canine disc competitors who competed in the 2010 Worlds, Mark Muir (the 2009 Skyhoundz World Champion in both the Open and Sport Divisions) had suffered a mini-stroke, known as a TIA. Fortunately, Mark, a firefighter, fell ill at work and was immediately attended to by folks who deal with such situations for a living.
Good Friends Remembered by Jeff Perry
Sometimes you just don’t feel like being funny. So, I thought it might be nice to talk about communities and what they mean to us and to the current and future participants of the various disc disciplines.
One of the things I’ve learned about disc sports enthusiasts is that we all share a sense of community that borders on the familial. We think of our fellow enthusiasts as friends, at least, but often as brothers and sisters. The disc dog community is small enough that most of us either know, or have heard of, virtually everyone else involved in the sport. If we haven’t actually met, then we’ve likely encountered each other in cyberspace and exchanged training advice and photos of our dogs. In fact, with international participation in the Skyhoundz World Canine Disc Championship, and other international contests, quite a few overseas friendships have germinated and the disc dog family is now entrenched on multiple continents. I know that disc golf and Ultimate enthusiasts have ties that run just as deep.
Communities are good things, especially during difficult times. And it was by virtue of one of those difficult times that I found myself flying from my home in Georgia, to Los Angeles, a few days ago. I made the long trip to attend a memorial service, or rather, a Celebration of Life, for one of the longest-serving disc doggers in the history of our sport. I use the word servingbecause, in our sport, the folks that are most greatly appreciated and recognized by their peers, are those who serve the sport first, and their competitive interests second. They are the teachers, cheerleaders, organizers, and behind the scenes workers who make it possible for so many of us to enjoy disc dogging.
Mike and Kathy Miller, of Hacienda heights, California, have been involved in canine disc sports for more than a quarter of a century. Theirs is an unbroken legacy of contest organizing, clinic teaching, charity demos, and preaching the gospel of canine disc sports. And it was with deep concern that I found out a year ago, that Kathy had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Despite her progressing illness, and debilitating chemo treatments, Kathy and Mike made one final trip together to the World Championship last September. They performed a brilliant Pairs Freestyle routine that featured Kathy — with the aid of a swiveling stool lovingly modified by her husband Mike — as an equal partner in the action. To all who saw their routine, it was a moving testament of their devotion to our sport, as well as their love for each other. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Four months later, our community lost a wonderful spirit and a great friend.
Mike chose, as the venue for Kathy’s memorial, the hallowed disc dog ground of The Bowl at La Mirada Park. Disc dog contests have been held there for nearly as long as our sport has existed. About 100 canine disc enthusiasts from around the country gathered to say their final goodbyes to one of canine disc’s most beloved enthusiasts and perhaps its best cheerleader. Among the more well-known attendees were Sam Ferrans and Mark Molnar of Innova Champion Discs, and legendary disc dogger, Eldon McIntire of Monrovia, California. I was privileged to be able to share my memories of Kathy but even more fortunate to learn, from others, so many wonderful things that I didn’t know about her. There was no question that she was loved, and that she will be missed. As speaker after speaker stood to recount their experiences with Kathy, I thought about the small group of people that I saw playing a pick-up Ultimate game as I drove into the park that morning. I also knew that not far away, groups of disc golfers were working the long course at La Mirada and spending time talking about the usual things that friends share with friends. I wondered about all of the role models and influencers who got them involved in their respective sports. I imagined that this scene has played out many times before, often unnoticed on the national scene, but every bit as poignant and significant to those involved. As the morning coolness turned to afternoon heat, the celebration ended with some long throws to Kathy’s dog Ruckus and then food and drinks at the home of Brad and Jaeleen Sattler, who got their start in the sport at an event organized by the Millers 20 years ago.
The next day I kept free for another important mission — to visit the nearby grave of Irv Lander. Lander is viewed universally as the father of canine disc sports. After Alex Stein and Ashley Whippet famously trespassed on the playing field at Dodger Stadium nearly 35 years ago, it was Lander who bailed Stein out of jail and became promoter in chief for the Frisbee dog revolution sweeping the country. Lander introduced Mike and Kathy Miller to the sport when many of today’s participants were in diapers. A decade ago, while I was doing a lengthy series of canine disc shows in Japan, Lander passed away suddenly, and I was unable to attend his funeral. Although life sometimes interferes with your best intentions, I knew that I would one day visit his resting place. And so, thanks to Kathy Miller, I found myself at Hillside Memorial Park, located a short distance from Los Angeles International Airport. The kind lady in Hillside’s administration building told me where to find Lander but not before giving me directions to a few other distinguished residents. Unbeknownst to me, the cemetery where Lander was buried was a virtual who’s who of the Hollywood famous. No matter who you are, you would probably be very familiar with dozens of the people who are buried there.
I located Lander’s gravesite in a grassy alcove warmed by the afternoon sun. We had a brief chat, in which I did all of the talking. I thought of the many times that we youngsters sat around and listened while Lander held audience — regaling us with stories from our sport’s genesis. The long road trips, fleabag motels, and episodes of wild behavior in the sport’s early days (of which I was proud to contribute) are perhaps better left to the imagination. He was a good man and I was lucky to have known him. Before leaving, I placed a disc on his grave upon which I wrote a short personal note. And then it was time to go, for I had one last visit to make before the cemetery closed.
After searching around a bit, I finally found the final resting place of another very famous man who passed away not long after Alex Stein and Ashley Whippet introduced the world to a brand new disc sport called “canine Frisbee.” Although it had been 35 years since this gentleman’s passing, the dozens of small pebbles and coins left on his marker (a Jewish tradition I was told), were evidence that he too was not forgotten. His name, Moe Howard, might not ring a bell for youthful readers, but to anyone who grew up in the ’40’s, ’50’s, or ’60’s, Moe Howard was a comedic legend. Moe, was the brainy member of the Three Stooges and, to the delight of millions of men and boys, he routinely whipped the other stooges in shape with exceedingly childish and brutal behavior. He once beat up on Curly (my favorite stooge) so badly that it made me cry (I was five at the time). His television exploits turned generations of women against men and probably destroyed hundreds, if not thousands, of relationships in the process.
I couldn’t resist doing a few of my favorite Three Stooges imitations (after I made sure that no one was looking!). It was somehow right that I should end my difficult trip on a comforting comedic note. We disc doggers share far more laughs than tears and, of course, that’s how it should be. After all, sharing laughs is why our sport is so much fun. But caring for one another and sharing tears is what makes us a family.