It's difficult to know where Charlie Byers' fingers end and his yo-yo begins. The 11-year-old boy deftly twists and turns the yo-yo string into endless shapes and the spool ricochets from one position to the next.
Conversation doesn't interrupt his stride.
"It's just endless. You can't just stop doing it because of all the tricks," said Byers as he demonstrated his yo-yo prowess in the living room of his family's Rockdale home. "It's a new thing every time."
Byers has competed in six yo-yo contests, including the World Yo-Yo Contest in Orlando featuring competitors from more than 15 different countries. While he didn't fair too well (his mother Donna Byers said it was more like "yo-yo college"), he did take third place in the Florida State Yo-Yo Contest and fifth in the Alabama State Yo-Yo Contest.
Just recently, he gained a sponsor, Foxland Precision, a yo-yo maker. He'll get to use Foxland Precision yo-yos not yet on the market, maintain a yo-yo blog for the company and make instructional videos.
"They wanted Charlie because he's younger," said his mother, who added that her son is among the few children to enter the contests, which primarily draw men in their early 20s.
He got his first yo-yo in 2008 for his birthday and quickly taught himself tricks by watching YouTube videos. His father Brett Byers said that in the beginning his son approached him each evening after work and showed him what new trick he learned that day.
Byers estimates he's mastered about 70 tricks so far. He practices three to four hours a day, in between his studies as a sixth-grade homeschooler. Classic tricks like Walk the Dog and Rock the Cradle have given way to more intricate and hiply named ones like Double Helix or Nothing and the Matrix.
Byers is adept at maneuvering the yo-yo around his body and under his legs. For a little extra fun, he fashions the string into certain positions to produce likenesses of the Eiffel Tower, the Jamaican flag, the British flag and Darth Vader.
Donna Byers said the yo-yo competitions offer her son opportunities to meet a variety of people, young and old. Recently, after a contest at a hotel, he had a group of groomsmen, who wandered over from a wedding reception, captivated by his yo-yo skills.
A friendship Byers developed with an 80-year-old master yoyoer led to a performance gig with the man on the SAM Shortline Railroad excursion train in south Georgia. He has a standing invitation to perform again on the train.
"He's a very outgoing child. He can walk into a room of strangers and within 10 minutes he's found his buddy," his mother said.
Beyond having to pick up little pieces of yo-yo string around the house and getting the string caught in the vacuum, Donna Byers said she's pleased with her son's chosen hobby and his success.
"In a time in which he could be glued to a video game, I'm very excited that this is what his passion is," she said. "If anything, it's helped him make more connections with people."
To see a performance of Charlies Byers at the Tennessee Yo-Yo competition, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSO320OTsxg.