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Helmut Schmidt, Published September 10 2007

W. Fargo teen spins yo-yo for ‘Smile’ charity

To say that Matt Thoemke goes ga-ga over yo-yos is an understatement.

In West Fargo parks or at the Community High School, the 18-year-old often gathers a crowd as he flips, whips and tosses the spinning orbs – sometimes 30 feet into the air – like a juggler on fast-forward.

But the otherwise shy street performer doesn’t look for handouts. No, if you’re looking to give to a charity, he’ll point you to it.

Stick around at an impromptu performance long enough and he’ll hand you a pamphlet for “The Smile Train,” an international organization that provides free surgery to poor children worldwide with cleft lips and palates.

Thoemke said he was inspired to take up The Smile Train cause by Daniel Dietz, a 13-year-old yo-yo phenom from Florence, Mass, who’s raised more than $10,000 for the charity.

He did his own research and was hooked by the fact that all donations go to research, doctor training or treating poor children.

“I’ve always wanted to do something good for the community,” Thoemke said.

Bolstering his decision, he learned that a long-distance friend, former American Yo-Yo Association President Joe Mitchell, had a son who had a cleft palate repaired.

Mitchell, of Wilmington, Del., has seen Thoemke’s yo-yo skills on video. He was also impressed by the 18-year-old’s tech skills when he worked out the bugs for Mitchell’s Internet radio show.

“It’s nice that Matt takes the time to raise money for something like that,” Mitchell said. “It’s about as worthwhile a charity as you can think of.”

Thoemke took up the yo-yo in 1998, then gave it up until 2004, when he saw a demonstration by “Dazzling Dave” Schulte at the Midwest Regional Yo-Yo Championships at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.

Now he spins away an hour or more a day.

When Thoemke describes yo-yoing, it’s a mix of philosophy and psychology – a yin and yang of yo-yo, so to speak.

“It creates a balance,” he said. “It brings the two hemispheres of the brain together.”

It’s also an ice-breaker for meeting people, he said, as he put a hand-sized butterfly yo-yo through its paces.

“A. You want to fit in. And B. This is fun!” he said.

Community High Principal Coleen Bremer is proud of and happy for Thoemke, who has handed out “Smile Train” brochures to each of the students at the school, as well as a few yo-yos.

“I don’t think there’s anything in it for him but the satisfaction of doing it,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583