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Published: Thursday, 6/14/2007

The world of ups, downs juggles its way to Monroe

BY BENJAMIN ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - You wouldn't know it, except for the sight of the odd ball, club, or stick of dynamite lying abandoned on a park floor, or perhaps by noticing odd remnants left on a bench that used to also support a clown or zebra, but there is a subculture of jugglers out there.

They form clubs and regularly meet in communities throughout the world. Brazil, the Czech Republic, England, France, the island of Sardinia, and yes, they even congregate in your own backyard - in Monroe, Toledo, Bowling Green, Maumee, and Ann Arbor.

And this weekend, they will come out of the woodwork.

On Saturday, the jugglers - who throw things in the air for show and amusement, and sometimes do so while riding unicycles and spinning yo-yos - are celebrating.

It's World Juggling Day and the 60th anniversary of the International Jugglers' Association.

"The juggling community, we can be a kind of unusual crowd," said Mark Kipf, who founded Monroe County's only juggling club in 2003. "But we don't discriminate. We're just a bunch of people that get together and juggle and goof off."

Mr. Kipf, 43, always wanted to juggle.

"I never had a hobby," he said. "It improves your hand-eye coordination and it becomes a very social thing when you start 'club passing,' passing the clubs back and forth between two people."

He bought a book in the summer of 2000 and taught himself.

Now he can juggle three bowling balls. He also rides the unicycle.

He started the club after frequenting the Ann Arbor Juggling Arts Club.

"I put a note in the local paper to gauge interest and then I just went to the park and started juggling on a particular day and a particular time and waited to see if anyone would show up."

It's a small club, with about five regular members.

But a few members from other area clubs - the 'Toledo Tossers', the 'BGSU Juggling Club', 'Ann Arbor Juggling Arts Club', the 'Juggling Club of Doom' in Maumee, or the Wood County unicycle club - likely will join the Monroe jugglers 2 p.m. Saturday at Veterans Park for the big day.

"The object is to be out in the park and promote juggling and teach people if they want to learn," Mr. Kipf said. "There are so many people that say, 'I didn't know there was a juggling club in Monroe.'• "

Sometimes you can spot them from their 'All Day I Dream About Juggling' T-shirts.

"It's an excuse to go somewhere, something to do," Mr. Kipf said.

Brandon Schock, a sophomore at Monroe High School, took up the hobby after his mom dated Mr. Kipf for a little while a few years back.

"It's quite a bit of a challenge, something you've got to work at to do," Brandon, 15, said. "I've tried to teach my friends, but they never seem to pick it up. When they drop the balls, they give it up."

Generally, you start with three balls. Then you progress upward to four, five, six, and so on. And, for kicks, you can begin adding other objects - clubs, torches, knives, devilsticks, spinning plates, or sticks of dynamite, depending on the daredevil in you.

According to The Internet Juggling Database, which lists various juggling events and gives juggling tips, the women of Tonga (an island in the South Pacific) use tui-tui nuts.

Brandon is the only teenager in the Monroe club, but he imagines there must be someone else out there like him. "There's 2,000 kids in my high school, so there has to be at least one more [juggler] than me," he said.

To create fraternity, juggling has made a concerted push to go online. This year, World Juggling Day primary has been organized through forums and listserves on the International Jugglers' Association's Web site.

When Mr. Kipf travels, he uses the Web site to find local clubs.

"I went down to Florida this past winter, and, well, of course I'm taking juggling stuff with me, so I looked online to meet people down there to juggle with," he said.

While the sport may be male dominated, the BGSU Juggling Club - its unofficial name is The Ninja Jugglers, or The NinJugglers - mentions the need to diversify.

"Section 4: To encourage women. Women have a unique perspective on juggling, which is unfortunately underrepresented in the juggling community," the college club's constitution states.

But the uniqueness of the sport may transcend all races, classes, and genders. The Internet Juggling Database offers a few words of wisdom on its Web site, to all prospective jugglers:

"Ignore the stares and jibes. You get used to them."



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