Give it a spin

Whirled Festival of Tops

By Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin

Photo: The festivities begin at 5 p.m. in the area north of the Baum Opera House; photo: Jay Robinson

For such a seemingly simplistic device, the top has a vast history and teeters on the edge of mechanical impossibility at every turn. A physicist might evoke Euler’s equations to explain a top’s motion. An archeologist might tell you about tops found at ancient dig sites in Greece. However you want to go about explaining them, there’s no denying the hypnotic effect of that gyroscopic motion, which may help to elucidate its lasting appeal. In downtown Miamisburg, the top and all its finely complex glory will be celebrated at the Whirled Festival of Tops.

“This is our 14th year,” Mike Hout, top thrower and Whirled organizer said. “We started with the idea of adding some children’s activities to a downtown event known as the Star City Arts and Crafts Show.”

Even after the Star City Arts and Crafts Show folded, the interest in Whirled sustained. Over the years, the event has grown, attracting national talent and garnering world attention for their record-breaking attempts and successes.

“We have tried breaking records in our event and have had some success,” Hout said. “Fourteen years ago, we were the first group to have over 100 top throwers in one gathering. That eventually became something others tried and Guinness did accept some records of large groups of people throwing all at one time – we like to think we were the ones who initiated all of that. A few years later, we knew we would never beat the most people spinning one top each, so we got people who could each throw lots of tops each and broke the record for the most tops spun at one time: 425. It is hard to keep coming up with record attempts, so we do not have one scheduled for this year, but we are always open to ideas!”

The guest list at past events has been a veritable who’s-who of the throwing community. Hout marks them off humbly: “In the past, some of our special guests have been Don Olney, The Toycrafter of Rochester; Dale Oliver, world champion yo-yo and top spinner from Fort Worth, Texas; Jorge Alcoz, world champion and world top spinning traveler from San Antonio, Texas; Alan Gray, world placer and maker of the greatest giant tops in the world; David Burhmeister, world placer and creator of totally original tops out of string and super glue; Takeshi, world placer and champion yo-yo-er; Mark Hayward, world placer and yo-yo and juggling champion; Chris Neff, world champion, tremendous top maker and creator of the world’s best top spinning string; and the Duncan yo-yo car and crew.”

This year’s list is no slouch. “So far, our top guest is Larry D. from the forum,” Hout said. “He has been sending us special tops from around the world the last few festivals, and we wanted to highlight him and thank him. He is driving over from Long Island, N.Y. We have a family driving up again from Alabama, the Hickersons. I am sure there will be a few other surprises – like maybe the famous Takeshi from Indianapolis – but right now, that is where we stand on special guests. Deep in the bowels of the University of Cincinnati physics department is a unique and talented man by the name of John Markus. He makes phenomenal tops out of totally recycled material. He is also a very skilled spinner and will join us again for his third or fourth festival. People from around the world beg for some of his top creations!”

The festivities will begin at 5 p.m. in the area north of the Baum Opera House.

“The fun battles will go on for an hour and a half or so until a championship team is crowned,” Hout said. “Teams of three challenge one another and they get one point for a spinner in the spinning arena, plus an extra point for the longest spinner – the first to 11 points wins. They will win 100 gold dollar coins – plus one more for each year of our event, thus making their prize the biggest yet. All participants in every team win gold dollar coins and the farther the teams advance, the more coins they will win. After 8 p.m. the adult spinners usually go to Bullwinkle’s Top Hat (“top,” ha ha) Bistro and then retire back at the Top Spinning Hall of Fame – my garage – for late night spinning of tops and spinning of tales.”

Hout has been the driving force of Whirled from the beginning. He comes from a background of track and field and juggling – skills he managed to combine, when he broke two Guinness records for juggling three items while hurdling.

“Personally, I have always enjoyed challenges that keep me focused,” Hout said. “Challenges based on time and measurable effort are perfect for me. Every once in a while, I get into competitions, but I enjoy a personal long-term challenge and seeing what I can do based on my ability and my work schedule. … As I aged and ran less, I got more into top spinning. I placed in the world championships a number of times with that and won it in 2011.”

For unique challenges and examples of mesmerizing craftsmanship, head down to the Whirled Festival of Tops on Saturday!

The 2014 Whirled Festival of Tops will take place from 5-8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 23 in historic downtown Miamisburg, between the Baum Opera House and the City Annex building on S. First St. For more information, please visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin at To read more from Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin, visit her website at

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About Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin

View all posts by Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin
Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin is a writer and amateur cartographer living in Dayton, Ohio. She has been a member of PUSH (Professionals United for Sexual Health) since 2012 and is currently serving as Chair. She can be reached at or through her website at

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