Originally created 11/30/97

Yo-yos return in time for holidays

MIDDLEFIELD, Ohio - Cool kids these days are going around the world and shooting for the moon. They're walking the dog, eating spaghetti and rocking the baby - all with the help of their yoyos.

Yo-yos are a hit again, and sure to be a big stocking-stuffer for Christmas. Those same wheels on a string that gave baby boomers hours of pleasure years ago are rolling once more thanks to some smart marketing.

At Carrie E. Tompkins Elementary School in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., there's such a yo-yo craze that principal Lauren Allan had to ban yo-yos from school grounds.

"We've got about 650 kids and about 550 yo-yos," Allan said.

The yo-yo has a long history of comebacks. The first record of the toy comes from a Grecian urn dated about 450 B.C. and depicting a young person playing with a yo-yo. In 19th century Europe, Napoleon's troops entertained themselves with yo-yos between battles.

Donald Duncan, founder of Duncan Toys Co., started producing them in the United States in the 1920s after he saw a Philippine immigrant entertaining a crowd with yo-yo tricks.

In the 1970s, yo-yos again were the rage, with television programs showing players how to maneuver the manual toy. But sales began to soften over the last decade as children favored new toys such as video and electronic games.

That's until Mike Caffrey, a former Tucson, Ariz., yo-yo champ, joined Duncan, the biggest name in yo-yos, as its sales and marketing director four years ago.

Mr. Caffrey created a television ad campaign focusing on the skill and style needed to conquer the yo-yo, compared with the ease of handling a video game joystick.

The company also put together a week's worth of lesson plans for elementary school science classes, all involving yo-yos, to teach principles such as potential and kinetic energy.

Duncan, based in Middlefield, 45 miles east of Cleveland, has distributed the lesson plans to 80,000 schools each spring since 1995 and offered to sell classes yoyos below wholesale costs.

That's helped sales of yo-yos triple for Duncan, although the company would not give more specific sales figures. As children take their yo-yos onto the playground, the other students take note and then want their own.

"It's a lot of fun," said Jennifer Baybrook, a 17-year-old from St. Albans, Vt., and reigning national yo-yo champion. "It's something kids can do and it's a challenge. Once you start getting a few tricks, you want to do more."

Those tricks tend to have picturesque names, like "shooting for the moon" or "rocking the baby."

While Duncan and rivals such as Massachusetts-based Yomega Corp. have introduced yo-yos with new colors and with a few extra features, such as a yo-yo that automatically returns to the user's hand, the latest craze centers around the same old double wheel.

"Kids are getting a little sick of all these high-tech, expensive toys," said Steve Presser, owner of the store Big Fun in Cleveland Heights.

"With yo-yos, the good ones cost $4 and it's up to the kid to become good at it."

Because the yo-yo is small and relatively inexpensive, industry analysts believe it will sell well this holiday season.

"Yo-yos are kind of like a comet, coming back for every generation," said Chris Byrne, editor of the trade publication Playthings MarketWatch.

"Kids discover them again and realize they're fun, and parents with any good sense don't say `I had one, too!' - they just let the kids enjoy them.' "


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