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posted: 7/1/2013 12:03 PM

Yo-yo is low-tech toy with worldwide appeal

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  • Vernon Area Public Library held a yo-yo program June 13 with Barry North.

    Vernon Area Public Library held a yo-yo program June 13 with Barry North.
    Courtesy of Laurel Shapiro


You wanted to know

"Where was the yo-yo invented?" asked a young patron at the Vernon Area Library's yo-yo workshop last month.

Most likely, your mom and dad have a few tricks up their sleeves when it comes to yo-yoing, and your grandparents might be pretty good yo-yo-ers, too.

In the U.S., the action-packed, low-tech toy has been a standard for girls and boys for more than 80 years. This seemingly simple spinning disc has worldwide appeal, with yo-yo clubs, associations and competitions across the globe.

"Yo-yo popularity goes up and down, just like everything else," said self-proclaimed Yo-yo Man Barry North, 73, of Rolling Meadows.

North recently wowed patrons at the Vernon Area Library in Lincolnshire with his daring yo-yo stunts, like "'Walk the Dog," followed by a yo-yo skills workshop.

The toy disc-on-a-string that we call a yo-yo has been a cherished child's treasure and awe-inspiring pastime for more than 2,000 years. Berlin's Altes Museum features a Greek urn dating to 400 B.C. decorated with an image of a boy using a yo-yo. No one really knows exactly where the toy originated.

North described how he first became interested in yo-yoing: "When I was young growing up in Chicago, we didn't have TV. We played with marbles and yo-yos."

Back in the 1950s, yo-yo manufacturer Duncan, headquartered in Chicago, would hire yo-yo whizzes to run yo-yo contests in major cities to boost toy sales.

"I have a twin brother. Both of us won all the contests, all the time. I won my very first contest in 1951 when I was 11," North said.

Although North won the title of Chicago's second best yo-yoer at age 13, earning an oversized green yo-yo trophy that he still owns, he tabled his toy passion until much later in life, after retirement. Now, North visits area libraries to teach his love of yo-yoing to boys and girls.

Business experts say yo-yo popularity swings around every 8 or 10 years. Business must be on the upswing now as manufacturers produce yo-yos in nearly 50 colors and styles, available on toy store shelves and online.

"Around the World," "Walk the Dog," and "Shoot the Moon" are advanced yo-yo tricks, and yo-yo superskilled tricksters like North can be found everywhere around the world.

"There are world contests in Japan, which has good yo-yo players, and Mexico. Everybody all over the world knows what a yo-yo is," he said.

An international competition, the World Yo-yo Contest will be held in Orlando, Fla., in August, attracting hundreds of competitors in freestyle and trick events. The 2014 and 2015 World Yo-yo Contests will be in the Czech Republic and Japan.

North's beginner basic tip is to look for online yo-yo teaching videos.

"The three basic tricks are the 'Throw Down/Sleeper,' the 'Forward Pass' and the 'Breakaway.' All tricks come off these three moves," he said.

Meet North at the Palatine Public Library Sept. 21 or the Glen Ellyn Public Library

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