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A convention at UMD attracts jugglers of all ages

From balls to clubs to yo-yos, jugglers from across the country gathered Saturday for the annual Congress of Jugglers hosted at the University of Maryland.

From left, Sean Tessier, 36, of Connecticut; Jill Carson, 40 of North Carolina and Cayce Ramey, 47, of Falls Church, perform at the 2023 Congress of Jugglers at Ritchie Coliseum in College Park, Md. on Saturday. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
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The 11-year-old girl, dressed in light pink with her hair in a ponytail, watched as her father explained how to juggle the soft, dark blue balls in his hands.

“Throw, throw,” said John Chase, 38, of Rockville as he popped one ball into the air, then another inside a University of Maryland gymnasium. “Catch, catch,” he said as he caught them.

His daughter, Ruthie, has been going to the Congress of Jugglers, an annual convention of jugglers in the D.C. and Maryland region, since she was an infant, Chase said. Now, she’s learning the skill from her juggling parents. Her mother, Kelly Chase, 40, practiced the Diabolo, or Chinese yo-yo, next to her, revving up the plastic hourglass figure on a string.

“It’s fun to pass along the joy,” said John Chase, who got into juggling as a high-schooler. “It’s a really wonderful and positive community to be a part of.”

On Saturday afternoon, nearly 50 amateurs and masters of object manipulation, including clubs, yo-yos and other items, descended to Ritchie Coliseum at the University of Maryland for the event, hosted by the UMD Juggling Club.

The convention, which began Friday and ran through Sunday, is an opportunity for juggling connoisseurs to exchange skills, play games and reconnect with familiar faces from other conventions and festivals, said Brian Cherin, president of the UMD Juggling Club and a senior majoring in computer science. The day of open gym time culminates with a juggling talent show in the evening, and after, fire juggling.

“It’s a great place to expose yourself to new skills and meet new people, network,” Cherin, 22, said. “It’s also great for our own university club members because they get to meet a much broader audience of people in the juggling field.”


Throughout the gym, groups of two to three jugglers passed plastic and wood clubs between each other, tossing and catching the colorful objects in the air. Others taught beginners how to juggle three balls in a cascade pattern. In one contest, participants juggled quarters, and the person who didn’t drop any got to keep them all.

“Like being in the zone for any athlete, being in that flow state is exactly what you want,” Eric Shibuya, 55, a professor from Fredricksburg, who juggled cup heads, a club with a ball that fits on its top.

One appeal of juggling is problem-solving, breaking down the tricks and practicing to improve, said Mikey Manoguerra, 37, traveling in for the convention from the Philadelphia area.

Children roamed about the gym, playing along, and teaching new skills too.

Ioan Peev, 14, joined 77-year-old Bob Swaim, a retired math teacher, on his side-by-side bike, where Swaim drove and Peev juggled five balls while pedaling.

Liam Klass, 14, an eighth-grader who traveled with his family from West Virginia, specializes in yo-yoing, holding the title of first place in the amateur division of this year’s Virginia State yo-yo competition. At Saturday’s event, Klass taught John Chase, a high school math teacher, how to “split the atom,” wrapping the string around the yo-yo and spinning it around your fingers.

Many attendees remembered exactly how they learned to juggle: a college professor who required it for class credit, an episode of Sesame Street or a school play.

Brendan Diamond, 39, brought his 11-year-old son, Eamon, and 5-year-old daughter, Saoirse, to the convention from Columbia, Md. It was the family’s first time.

Eamon already knows Diabolo, Diamond’s specialty, and Saoirse is learning how to juggle with one club.

“It’s way more exciting for them to see other people doing things. It motivates them to try, and see people fail, and try again,” Diamond said of the Congress of Jugglers. “They can teach tricks to older people too.”