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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

String theory

John Bozung, 55, warms up with Jared Villarreal, 15, before the Inland Empire Yo-Yo Challenge on Saturday at River Park Square. Bozung won the World Overall Sport Division in Orlando, Fla., in 2002 and the National Overall Sport Division in Chico, Calif., in 2003. Both competitors are from the Tri-Cities. 
 (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

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.”