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Minnesota's 'Yo-yo Master' will perform at national convention

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 11/14/2013 8:09 AM

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A Mountain Lake FFA member will entertain his peers at the National FFA Convention.

Britton Pankratz, also known as "The Yo-yo Master," will perform two to four shows daily, Oct. 30-Nov. 2, at the National FFA Convention in Louisville. He also will compete against other acts from across the nation for the opportunity to perform in front of 20,000 FFAers at a large assembly. The top 16 acts from across the nation earn this honor.

Pankratz, 18, who grew up on a corn and soybean farm south of Mountain Lake, has been performing a yo-yo routine for three years at county fairs in southwestern Minnesota, Lion's club meetings and Cub Scout gatherings.

His interest in yo-yos goes back about five years to a movie his mom found of Tommy Smothers. Tommy and his brother, Dick, had a variety show in the 1960s, and they had a 50-year career in entertainment. The duo performed a comedy routine that included music, sarcasm and yo-yos. They created the Yo-yo Man character.

Pankratz has created his own yo-yo character. The Yo-yo Master performs to songs from today, with the yo-yo seeming to follow the beat of the music.

He sets the stage for his performance by walking onstage carrying a briefcase-like box. People wonder what's in it, he says. He opens the box to reveal lots of stickers and yo-yos. The box contains nine yo-yos, Pankratz said. Five are identical; the other four are different kinds. He has both on-string and off-string yo-yos. The off-string yo-yos allow him to do different tricks, including tossing the yo-yo in the air.

Pankratz is a mostly self-taught yo-yo artist, though he does adapt tricks he sees on Youtube to his own routine.

His road to the National FFA Convention began in Region 6, where he competed and earned a trip to the Minnesota State FFA Convention talent show. He won and sent his state convention performance tape to the National FFA. He learned in August that he would perform at the convention.

It was a long, suspenseful wait from when he applied in May to when he learned in August, Pankratz said.

By Sept. 7, he submitted 10 songs that he will perform. His yo-yo routine runs four to five minutes.

"It should be a lot of fun," Pankratz said.

He has attended the past three national conventions, but all were in Indianapolis. This will be his first visit to Louisville, the home for the National FFA Convention in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Pankratz said his FFA adviser, Tom Appel, encouraged him to compete in the FFA Talent Contest, telling him his act was unique and unexpected.

Others must agree because Pankratz placed third at a 2013 Minnesota State Fair talent show. The song "Higher," by Taio Cruz, accompanied his routine.

On Oct. 15, Pankratz was expecting a new yo-yo. It may debut at the convention, depending on if he likes it or not. He planned to spend the couple weeks before convention fine-tuning his act.

Pankratz is a freshman at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. He's an agribusiness major.