By Karl Weisel, USAG WiesbadenJanuary 31, 2013
WIESBADEN, Germany (Jan. 31, 2013) -- Dropped jaws and mile-wide smiles greeted Army dentist Dr. (Maj.) Kevin Parker at Hainerberg Elementary School Jan. 15.
Not the expected reaction from a visit by tooth care expert?
That's because the Wiesbaden Dental Clinic pediatric dentist and school parent came to share his yo-yo know-how.
"We have a very special guest today -- someone who is sharing a hobby that he is passionate about," said Hainerberg Principal Penelope Miller-Smith in introducing the former yo-yo champion to the auditorium full of Hainerberg youngsters.
Parker, who said he first grew interested in yo-yos after his father showed him a trick as a boy and later crafted his own yo-yo in school shop class, was the Southwest Yo-Yo Champion in 1997. He said he was also inspired by the Smothers Brothers television show.
"I like it for meditation," Parker said, explaining that a 15-minute session while in college was a great way to unwind and relax during a strenuous study session. He said he also occasionally pulls out the yo-yo to break the tension with nervous young patients. "I'll pull it out and show them a few tricks and they think it's pretty cool."
With the assistance of his daughter, Lauren, who provided a running commentary, Parker demonstrated the full range of possibilities with the spinning sphere -- running quickly through such mainstays as walking the dog, the loop-de-loop, sleeper, cradle, forward pass and other favorites.
He also described the history of the yo-yo -- from its first appearance in ancient Greece, possible use as a weapon in the Phillippines, various innovations over the centuries and recurring interest in the United States in the 1920s and '60s.
"Now there's kind of a cult following," he said.
"The draw in the old days was that you could keep it in your pocket," Parker said, speculating that with so many other attractions these days --video games and the like that can also be transported easily -- the yo-yo's popularity may have diminished somewhat.
"Ever hear of the term 'inertia'?" asked Parker while demonstrating the idea with a water-filled bucket swung over the crowds' heads. "The yo-yo works the same way."
While most yo-yo enthusiasts grew up practicing with the dime store model -- a cheap light-weight wooden yo-yo -- Parker said that the spinning orbs range in price and sophistication.
"Guess what the record is for a yo-yo to 'sleep' (continue spinning while being suspended)? It's 21 minutes," Parker told the crowd.
Parker, who said the yo-yo helped pay for his honeymoon to the Bahamas (through performances and demonstrations), gave up competitive yo-yoing to study dentistry.
"In the old days it was eight basic tricks," he said, describing the competitive yo-yo environment. "Now it's freestyle, which often includes music and more showmanship."
His advice for anyone interested in improving his or her yo-yo skills-
"Get a nice beginner yo-yo and practice the basic tricks. There are tons of videos available online," he added, saying that he wished YouTube had been available when he first grew interested in yo-yoing.
As the roomful of future yo-yo enthusiasts expressed their appreciation, Parker told them to always keep safety in mind when practicing. "The first thing to talk about is safety, because yo-yos are hard. I've gotten black eyes from practicing. Make sure you keep a circle of safety around you."
(Editor's note: The Wiesbaden Dental Clinic invites youths to compete for prizes in the "Smile Healthy Today" dental art contest. Deadline to enter is Feb. 14. Visit www.wiesbaden.army.mil/sites/services/clinic.asp for the registration form and contest rules.)