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Split's decision

July 15, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN

karenh@herald-mail.com

Ron Watson has spent time throwing Frisbees at targets from distances of 17 to 35 yards.

He probably should have practiced in a hurricane.

Despite strong winds, the Hagerstown resident and his dog, Split, prevailed against 11 other teams last week to win the top prize in ESPN's Hot Zone disc-catching contest in Florida.

"That kind of connection, when you're clicking like that, it's just unbelievable. And, you know, it's like you're quarterbacking, and you have Randy Moss doing tricks and back flips, you know?" Watson said.

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Split, a border collie, took home a gold medal, while Watson pocketed $10,000 playing a little catch at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex. The game requires dogs go airborne to snag discs in different zones around a circle.

According to ESPN's Web site, footage from the Great Outdoor Games' Hot Zone event will air from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday and from 3 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

Watson, 32, has been training dogs to play Frisbee and perform tricks after he adopted Kimo, his first border collie. He spoke by phone Wednesday from St. Louis, where he was traveling with his children and all three of his dogs.

"Back in '97, I got Kimo because I wanted a smart dog. My dog as a child was an idiot, a complete idiot," Watson said.

Watson said the border collies are quick studies - he and Split played Hot Zone for only the second time last week.

A former Hawaii Pacific University baseball player and cheerleader, Watson said he spent his college years consumed by surfing and scuba diving. He didn't graduate.

He has coached diving at Urbana, Middletown and Brunswick high schools in Frederick County.

Driven to win, Watson said he initially pushed Kimo too hard and "broke" the dog.

"He plays, he's still a beast of an athlete, but mentally, he doesn't want to play freestyle with me too much," Watson said.

So, when Split struggled in Round Two of Hot Zone, Watson said he knew he had to make the event more fun.

"We were really in big trouble, so I just backed off of her and played with her and tried to show what she was supposed to do," Watson said.

He spent about 20 seconds of the timed event re-energizing his young dog and eventually walked off the field with "that big, five-foot 'Happy Gilmore' check."

Watson said traveling for Frisbee contests still is a drain on family finances. His oldest son, Dylan, 4, already shows a knack for the sport.

"He's a good little dog handler, and he's a great Frisbee thrower," Watson said.

Both of Watson's boys, Dylan and Alexander, 2, accompanied him on his trip to Florida. His wife, Danna, who works for IBM, stayed in Hagerstown, Watson said.

Watson's dogs soon will be on the road again - 3-year-old Leioani competes in the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge National Championship Sept. 10 in St. Louis. Challenge events include dog diving, agility and freestyle flying disc.

"They go nuts when they see the Frisbees," Watson said.

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