March 30, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 28°F

Life & Culture

Ithaca College freshman finds passion in professional yo-yoing

Freshman Donald Hodgkinson, wearing a black T-shirt and black flat-brimmed hat, stands in front of a sponsorship board at the 2012 World Yo-Yo Contest. A remix of the song “Dust In The Summer Rain” by Parov begins to play, and Hodgkinson begins an intricate three-minute routine with light-blue yo-yos, each yo-yo connected by a green string. This is no standard routine for Hodgkinson: He is about to take seventh place in a worldwide competition.

Hodgkinson’s yo-yo career began in third grade, when he saw older children on the playground in his hometown of Sharon, Massachusetts, playing with yo-yos and decided he wanted to learn the sport, he said. He taught himself how to play through online tutorials, books and by meeting with other yo-yo players in Massachusetts. Through the community and also at his yo-yo-themed 11th birthday party, where he had a professional yo-yo player, he heard about the competitive side of the sport. Hodgkinson said he was in his first competition when he was 11, about eight years ago.

“My first competition was in 2007,” Hodgkinson said. “It was in Western Massachusetts. It was a state competition … I entered the beginner division and got fourth place. It was a really great experience … Even still, I love going to competitions. It’s a really nice vibe. Everyone is there to support you.”

The way a competition is run varies depending on the size of the event, Hodgkinson said. There is usually a registration signup for each division and an entrance fee of $15–20. When competing, Hodgkinson said the judges grade the player based on the performance and technical difficulty of the routine.

“If you drop a string or something, they’d give you negative points, and depending on how well you execute, they’ll give you positive points,” he said. “For the other part of your score, it’s performance: It’s the musical use, stage use — just how well you look on stage.”

Hodgkinson specializes as a 3A player, which means he performs string tricks with two yo-yos at once. Throughout his yo-yo competitive career, Hodgkinson has been awarded many trophies, including first place at many competitions, such as the 2013 Pacific Northwest Regionals. He has traveled to places such as Florida, California and even Prague to compete. Each country has its own style of yo-yoing, Hodgkinson said.

“[Europe] was a lot more relaxed than here,” he said. “I thought that was really interesting and helpful because if you become too involved with [competition], you lose sight with the main points of yo-yoing, which I think is to have fun, interact with others and make friends.”

At competitions, Hodgkinson tries to promote his sponsor, Werrd HQ — a yo-yo company based out of Australia — by wearing the company’s clothing and yo-yos they had sent him. Keith Mitton is a globally ranked Australian yo-yo player and works with Werrd HQ. He said Hodgkinson was on the rise to being a popular competitive yo-yo player when the company began to talk with him about his hobby and its potential to sponsor him.

“We want people that want to become a part of the [yo-yo] family,” he said. “Some people have a particular style that they might be winning contests with, or maybe nobody else can play yo-yo quite like them. Donald is a bit of both.”

Leslie Amper, Hodgkinson’s mother, said prior to the beginning of her son’s yo-yo hobby, she never imagined what yo-yos could lead to. The yo-yo community enjoys coming together to compare yo-yos or new tricks and cheer one another on, she said.

“Donald drew us into a world that we had no idea existed,” Amper said. “The fun thing about it is that it’s creative, physical, includes discipline, it’s a community and you’re making friends all over.”

When freshman Alena Chekanov first heard about Hodgkinson’s yo-yo hobby at the college’s freshman orientation, she said she imagined him being able to perform basic tricks. But when she looked at his social media, she found out it was much more, she said.

“Everyone has the cool thing about them, and Don’s thing is yo-yoing,” she said. “When he first told me, I was like, ‘Oh, OK. That’s cool.’ … When I became friends with him on Instagram, his whole Instagram is devoted to videos of him yo-yoing, and I love all of them. They are just so great. He’s like a professional.”

Hodgkinson has about nine yo-yos at the college and another 20 at his house, he said. He uses them on a daily basis as a creative outlet. No matter what he’s feeling or doing, his yo-yo is his way of expressing himself, Hodgkinson said.

“A lot of the time I spend thinking about tricks, performing in my mind, expressing some thoughts I have,” he said. “Like a musician would use their talent to express themselves, I do that the same way with the yo-yo to get out a lot of my creative energy.”

Ashley Wolf can be reached at or via Twitter: @@ashleyjcwolf