Within minutes of walking into the Lisa Stiles-Gyllenhammer Boys and Girls Club in Mead, kids surround Daniel Robinson, 23.
They swarm him, shouting his name, waving their hands and asking for autographs.
No, Robinson isn’t a rock star or a professional athlete, but for local kids who love kendama, he’s the closest thing they’ve got to a celebrity.
Kendama, a traditional Japanese toy, has taken the nation by storm. The ball and cup game offers hours of fun – enough fun to lure kids away from video games, and enough to make Robinson a hero to the kids at the Boys and Girls Club.
Robinson, a 2008 Mead graduate, said, “I started playing kendama in 2010. One of my buddies said, ‘Dude, look at this cool toy!’ ” Robinson said with a grin. “I knew I’d get obsessed with it.”
Indeed he did. He spent hours perfecting tricks such as trapeze acrobatics, centrifugal force and pinkie snatch. He learned the moves so well he soon picked up a sponsor – Kendama Co.
“I went on tour with them,” he said. “We started in Colorado and went to Montana, Idaho and Washington.”
In April, he helped organize the Spo-Town Throwdown at Mead High School. The event featured pros, players, prizes and plenty of kendamas.
“We had over 600 kids and adults,” said Robinson.
In addition to working and attending classes at Spokane Falls Community College, he spreads the kendama gospel wherever he can. One of his favorite places to visit: Boys and Girls Clubs.
It’s easy to see why. On Aug. 9, he and his friend, Kris Bosch, delivered 17 donated kendamas to the club. As dozens of kids shouted Robinson’s name, club Director Dan Curley rode herd on the excited crowd.
“As soon as they walk in, they mob them like this,” he said. “Last week I heard a kid ask, ‘Will you sign my shoe?’ ”
With kendamas slung around their necks, Robinson and Bosch chatted with the kids, many of whom had brought their own kendamas from home.
The pair executed a series of tricks for the appreciative crowd. Jacquez Charles, 10, has been playing kendama for a year. As he watched Robinson and Bosch swing and bounce the ball from spike to cup, Charles said, “They are really good. I like the tricks they can do!”
Cole Hendrickson, 8, showed off his Robinson-autographed kendama. He’s been working on his big cup spike. “Thirty-seven is my record.”
Six-year-old April Hammond frowned with concentration as she tried to master a basic move. “I’ve never done kendama before,” she said. She tugged on Robinson’s shirt, handing him a Pokémon book to autograph.
Other kids weren’t as successful in obtaining the sought-after signature.
“No, I can’t sign your shirt,” Robinson told one hopeful boy. “Your parents probably bought that for you.”
He patiently signed water bottles and kendamas, all the while chatting with the group about the tricks they are struggling to master. High-fives and words of encouragement left many kids beaming, but no one smiled as much as Robinson.
“Anything to spread the goodness of kendama,” he said. “The beauty of it. The simplicity of it. And best of all, no batteries are required.”