"I am the international judging director for the USDDN, which is the World Finals' steering committee. So we call it the U.S. Disc Dog Nationals Steering Committee," said Heeter, who departs Wednesday for the weekend qualifier. "And as an international judge, I volunteer and I teach judging seminars and Frisbee playing seminars, which we call disc dog seminars. So I will be going to the Czech Republic to judge one of their qualifiers that actually [has] two divisions [and] 10 teams qualify for our World Finals. So it's exciting because not only do I get to host the World Finals here in Cartersville this year, I'll be going to the Czech Republic and Japan and Poland [to judge qualifiers].
"For me, it's really exciting to be a part of the next generation of Frisbee dog teams. The Europeans and the Japanese are excelling in our sport just by tenfold. They all have different styles. ... This time of year is always fun because competitors are getting their jitters out of the way. They're creating their new routines and they're testing it out at some of the first qualifiers of the year. So it's exciting for me to see how people are putting their routines together."
After entering the disc dog sport in the late 1980s, Heeter became the first female to win a world championship in 1997. As the owner of WOOF! Sports USA, she helps organize events, like the U.S. Disc Dog's Southern Nationals at Atlanta's Piedmont Park and the World Finals at Cartersville's Dellinger Park in October, that draw top competitors from across the world.
"She has an answer for everything about our dog sport, and she has a very keen eye," said Mona Konishi, a Japanese representative for the USDDN Steering Committee. "When we have questions, we can ask her anything. It clears our mind till she can show us.
"She loves dogs and dog sports. So she spends a lot of time and passion and energy in this sport. And we appreciate it."
To advance to the World Finals, teams -- comprised of a handler and their canine -- need to qualify in one of 20 tournaments that are being held in nine countries. As with the other contests, the Czech Republic competition will send a total of 10 teams -- five in the super-open freestyle division and five teams in the super-pro toss and fetch.
"The most enjoyable thing is to see the relationship between the dog and the person and how each person showcases their dog's ability," Heeter said. "To me that's what I enjoy about judging. [It] is to see their individual style but also their strong relationship that they have built with their dog. The challenge [is similar to] any judging. Our sport is kind of like gymnastics in the scoring system as well as a little bit of ice skating. You have these freestyle moves, so you have to assign a number.
"So assigning a number is always a little difficult but I created a grading scale," she said, referring to associating an 'A,' 'B,' 'C' or 'D' with a certain number. "... I'll be doing judging seminars and player seminars so it's really all about educating the new judges on how to assign a good number and give a really good, what we call curve. Like last year we had 60 competitors in each qualified division. So when you watch 60 teams [and] they do two rounds of freestyle, that's [more than 100] rounds.
"So as a judge, you've got to be really good at picking a number and slotting people and [saying] this is an A, this is a B, this is a C, in your own element. So like I would just judge the team element and I have to judge everybody based on a nice curve and pick the person with the most, what I call difficult and good transitions in their team element. And that's what's hard as a judge is assigning those numbers in relationship to the scoring system. So it's a fun challenge."
Over the past two decades, Heeter said it has been fun to see the sport evolve throughout the world.
"What's happened is the teams are adding a lot of what I call unique individual moves. They're adding their own styles into moves that they've maybe seen in the past," said Heeter, who also offers on-site and online dog training lessons for the public. "And they're being really creative in their transitions and their individual tricks.
"So it's exciting to see the different styles in each country and now some of the Americans are doing what the Japanese were doing and some of the Europeans are doing what the Americans were doing. So it's kind of crisscrossing all over."
For more information about Heeter and WOOF! Sports USA, visit www.melissaheeter.com.