For Thad Winzenz, yo-yoing is a family affair. As a teenager growing up in Chico, he first met the girl who two years ago became his wife, Christine Malowney, because his love of yo-yoing took him into the store, Bird in Hand, owned by her parents, Bob and Barbara Malowney. The Malowneys, of course, are the folks who have made Chico the epicenter of American yo-yoing, home to both the national championships and the National Yo-Yo Museum. For a while, in the late 1980s, Thad was on the store’s yo-yo exhibition team. He went away to college in 1990, but when he came back he and Christine finally acknowledged their long-standing attraction for each other. Today she is the store’s buyer, he’s its floor manager, and they have a 6-month-old daughter, McKenna. He was also the assistant director of last weekend’s national contest held downtown and is director of the National Yo-Yo League.
How many tricks can you do?
Do you keep up?
I do try to keep up, and if someone shows me a new trick, I’ll try to learn it. But, you know, I don’t have the time I had when I was a teenager.
Anything new about the national contest this year?
We had a new set of judging criteria. Instead of requiring 10 compulsory tricks in the preliminary contest, we had contestants do a one-minute freestyle, with certain required trick elements. People want to see somebody get up on a stage and do a show.
How many contestants were there?
We had 191 registrants from all over the United States. We also had four people from Japan—yo-yoing is very big there—who came to watch and visit their friends. Yo-yo players are truly an international community—the largest subculture nobody knows about, as we say.
Tell me about the National Yo-Yo League.
We formed it two years ago to standardize the various contests, regional, national and world championships. We needed a common set of goals and guidelines so contestants would know what to expect. It’s affiliated with the National Yo-Yo Museum here in Chico.
It’s healthy, it’s wholesome, it’s fun. Anybody, any age can do it. And nowadays the technology of yo-yos is very advanced, so a player can do more complex tricks. And it’s a great way to get to know people, especially for kids. They can start by coming to the Chico Yo-Yo Club—every Saturday afternoon, 12-2, in Diamond Alley.