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The yo-yo is the new panacea, if you listen to the folks who competed Saturday in the first Inland Empire Yo-Yo Challenge.

It cures, they say – among other things – boredom, stress, obesity, shyness, diarrhea … well, maybe not diarrhea.

Still, the lassos, spins, flips and behind-the-back tricks from Saturday’s 45 participants created a stir among the shoppers at River Park Square.

“Anytime waiting for anything, he’s attracting a crowd,” said Lesa Painter, the mother of yo-yoer James Painter. “It never fails when you’re out in public.”

James Painter, 11, won first place in his age group for the ladder competition, in which yo-yoers have about three minutes to complete a list of 25 tricks. James worked his way through the 16th skill, called “Eli Hop” (a trick that resembles traditional yo-yoing, but upside down and with finesse).

The Cheney Middle School sixth-grader became interested in the sport two years ago when he saw a guy trying to impress his girlfriend with yo-yo tricks. (The girl wasn’t impressed; James was and started attending a free yo-yo lesson each Saturday.)

Like James, many of the participants said they got their start at the class given at Colors on the Wind, a north Spokane kite and yo-yo shop.

Others picked it up from friends and use the Internet to learn new tricks.

The popularity of yo-yos “goes up and down,” said Ken Cage, co-owner of Colors on the Wind, who apologized for the pun. “For the last year or so there’s really been an upswing.”

Tim Karr, a University of Idaho freshman, started yo-yoing three years ago under the influence of Russ Beane, coordinator of Saturday’s contest and a Priest River High School teacher who started a yo-yo club.

“It’s a good thing to relax with,” Karr said. “I can connect with people who are in their 70s and people who are 4 or 5 years old.”

As long as practice time doesn’t cut into homework, parents said they like the influence of the yo-yo.

“In the winter time, he’s doing something,” said yo-yo mom Cindy Havko. “He’s not sitting in front of the TV.”


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