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Yo Yo-ing through the years

My old Army buddy, former Cpl. Richard Arthur, has come up with a fine piece about his long-time affinity for the yo yo, one of the most enduring toys (?) ever invented. 

Here’s Richard’s story: 

While Christmas shopping a few weeks ago, and looking for grandkid-type toys, I happened upon a yo yo display at Walmart.

I have a history with the yo yo and selected a semi-translucent, green Duncan Imperial model after perusing the entire selection. Didn’t I owe myself a little Christmas present, after all?

It was like a magic time capsule, taking me back to the early 60s and vivid memories of endless fun, transistor radios and virtually no responsibilities, other than keeping the grass mowed at our home and maintaining proper tire pressure in my old Schwinn.

Here’s the backdrop to Yo Yo Redux:

In the summer of 1960 or 1961, our next-door neighbor, Anita, who attended college out of town during the school year, was managing a Kansas City Parks and Recreation site in Hyde Park. My brother and I often accompanied her on the ride to work in her aunt’s ’56 Chevrolet, and we would spend the day playing with all the sports stuff the city furnished to keep kids occupied. (It was strictly daytime activity; no midnight basketball in those days!) I was either 11 or 12 at the time.

One day, a big, green, city truck arrived with a large box of Duncan yo yo’s, and Anita passed them out to everyone there. I was thrilled to be given a toy that cost nearly a dollar at that time. I took a special liking to the one I got, which I believe was ivory, with an airbrushed, lemon-yellow stripe. It was made of wood and fit my hand perfectly.

Later, park officials announced there would be a yo yo contest, and they distributed a one-page sheet bearing the rules of the contest and showing what tricks would be included. I learned as many of the tricks as I could and took special note of the fact that any ties would be decided by who could do the most loop-the-loops and still recover the yo yo into their hand.

The contest day arrived, and I didn’t see anyone at the park who could do the basic tricks other than me. Those basic tricks were the spinner (freewheeling the yo yo at the end of the string), walk the dog, around the world, loop the loop, the trapeze, and the universally dreaded rock the cradle.

At the last possible minute, like a scene from a movie, an unknown kid rode up on a bike and entered the contest. I had never seen him at the park and suspected he was going all over town getting into the different contests. He was a sinister-looking character dressed in black.

It was like the Grim Reaper had arrived to dash my hopes of being a yo yo champion!

In very short order, it was plain to see that he and I were at the same level of yo yo skill. The contest proceeded, run by a Parks and Rec employee. At the end, the Grim Reaper and I were tied. I tightened my string to lessen the freewheel effect, and somehow fooled around until they had him do his loops first to break the tie. He did about five, and I did at least a dozen (it’s all about string tension and wrist control), winning first place in the Hyde Park division.

I received a trophy and a first-place patch, shaped like a Route 66 sign, and was told I was eligible to advance to the citywide contest the next week.

Many more guys showed up for that contest, but, again, most entrants couldn’t do all of the basic, required tricks, much less original tricks.

One of the prerequisites of this contest was that the contestants had to have an original trick to advance to the final stage. I named mine “The Scissors.” The Grim Reaper wasn’t there, which was a big relief. Again, loop-the-loops decided the winners. I did well and got third place.

A trophy and prizes to cherish

I seem to remember the winner being a little older than me, but I’m pretty sure there were age groups, so he probably wasn’t very much older. I think he got a larger trophy than the ones we got, but I got a big, red, oversized Duncan yo yo and another patch that said Third Place. I kind of remember getting a T-shirt, too, but I’m not certain about that.

Later, back at Hyde Park, Anita wanted all the yo yo’s out of her way and gave me the whole box of tangled, and sometimes-stringless, used yo yo’s. I don’t know what ever happened to them, but at the time, it seemed like a priceless treasure. I sewed the badge-shaped patches on a lightweight jacket, which has long since disappeared.

Over the years, I’ve managed to keep the trophy but have misplaced the little plastic insert that dropped into the grooves on the front of the trophy. As I recall, the insert had the name of the contest and the placings. I also still have the red yo yo, but I never really used it much because it doesn’t free wheel and weighs a ton.

Now, fast forward to the new yo yo that I got a Walmart…When I got it home, I was surprised to find that I could still perform the basic tricks, plus my special “Scissors” trick. So, now I’m looking for an old-timers contest and hoping the Grim Reaper isn’t lurking in the shadows.

At this stage, I’m only good for about six loop-the-loops.

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