Ancient toy is on the upswing

They say that everything old becomes new again, and dozens of students at Brantford Elementary are proving this old adage true by picking up a toy that was already old-fashioned back in their grandparents’ day.

In a classic early episode of The Simpsons, students at Springfield Elementary became obsessed with yo-yos after a memorable performance by the Twirl King Champions, a young troupe of professional yo-yo slingers. This is essentially also what happened at Brantford a year-and-a-half ago after a yo-yo salesman put on a free show for students in exchange for the school then selling them for him.

The gadgets sold better than hotcakes and now students and staff alike are spending their spare time learning and teaching each other new tricks.

“We meet every Saturday, rain or shine,” said Brantford teacher Jeremy Meugens, who got bitten by the yo-yo bug at the same time as many of his young charges.

Toy Story: Teacher Jeremy Meugens practices moves with students Lucas Morabito (left) and Anthony Matkovic. (Jason Lang photo)

Depending on the weather, the group meets on the lawns beside the Metrotown library or indoors near the Station Square movieplex. Many are getting ready to compete the first ever Western Canadian Regional Yo-yo Championship taking place at the the National Nikkei Museum and Heritage Centre.

“Half of the contest is aimed at elementary school children with an under 13-division,” said Meugens, adding that his students will also be presenting a special performance called “The History of Yo-yoing.”

Believed to date back to around 500 B.C. in Greece and also once used as a crude weapon in the Philippines, the yo-yo made a huge comeback in the 1920s as a toy.

While the design remains essentially the same – two plastic or wooden discs connected by an axle with a string tied to it – recent innovations in ball bearing technology has introduced a whole new world of freestyle tricks unimaginable in the good old days.

Meugens has posted a link to a recent Pacific Northwest Regional Yo-Yo contest held in Seattle on the school’s website that shows a variety of seemingly physics-defying tricks of the trade.

Yo-yos now come in responsive and non-responsive models, and some are even “off-string” – meaning players can toss the toy in the air and catch it using the cord.

Meugens laughed that it can be a struggle for many of the adults to keep up with the kids. “The 38-year-old leader of the pack is saying ‘OK, I’ve got to learn how to do this because there is an eight-year-old over there who can.”

Dennis Chui has his hands full mastering the yo-yo. (Jason Lang photo)

He added that one of the appeals of the yo-yo club is seeing kids interact and have fun without the use of electronic gadgets. However, those days might soon be numbered with the recent advent of the ReGEN, a prototype MP3/yo-yo hybrid that is powered by the kinetic energy of yo-yoing and that uses wireless Bluetooth technology to play music.

In the above-mentioned Simpsons episode, Homer had hoped to become rich through his son Bart’s mad yo-yo skills. This might not be as far-fetched someday as it now seems.

“We have a 15-year-old who comes out, he’s pretty amazing,” said Meugens. “He already has sponsors, meaning he gets his equipment and travel covered.”

(This story was first published May 20, 2011. © Copyright (c) Burnaby Now)

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