Teaching physics with a yo-yo

Army dentist shares his championship skills, know-how

Story and photos by Karl Weisel
U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Public Affairs Office

Dr. (Maj.) Kevin Parker captivates his Hainerberg Elementary School audience during a yo-yo demonstration Jan. 15.

Dr. (Maj.) Kevin Parker captivates his Hainerberg Elementary School audience during a yo-yo demonstration Jan. 15.


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.