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America’s Boomerangers Put New Spin on Old Sport

August 8, 1992

AMHERST, Mass. (AP) _ They’re as American as kangaroos. But what goes around is coming around in the United States.

Boomerang throwing, an ancient art in Australia, is making a global comeback that is being led by Americans.

″Baseball, football, basketball, tennis, frisbee - I believe that gives us an advantage,″ said world champion John Koehler, of Poolsville, Md. ″Young Americans grow up with eye-hand coordination sports.″

As he spoke, bright red and yellow boomerangs whistled and whirled about 50 feet overhead as the nation’s best throwers competed at the opening of the three-day national championship on a field at the University of Massachusetts.

The leaders were pressing for records in distance, accuracy, endurance, juggling and other events, while the not-so-great tried to avoid injury.

″This one hit me right in the mouth,″ said Andy Bourey of St. Louis, showing a boomerang to a reporter. ″I was bleeding during my whole first turn.″

In fact, the boomerang was once intended to draw blood. The Aborigines used the wooden boomerang, which dates back at least 10,000 years, to hunt birds. They also used it for sport and even for an icon in religious ceremonies.

Enthusiasts in this country, who formed the U.S. Boomerang Association in 1982, have nurtured the sport through a slow but steady comeback.

Larry Ruhf, a former national champion who organized the Amherst contest, said several thousand Americans throw boomerangs, including about 500 who belong to the U.S. association.

″Throwing out a stick, and it comes back - it has a kind of mystical quality,″ Ruhf said. ″It’s really the oldest sport - besides the ball.″

However, today’s competitors have designed a dizzying abundance of boomerangs tailored to different events and often built with high-tech plastics and other synthetic material. Boomerangs, generally 10-to-14 inches long and one-to-three ounces in weight, are sometimes shaped in classical style with two wings. But others now carry three, four or even more wings.

″There’s no such thing as a typical boomerang,″ said Koehler, bending down to a bag with about 60 boomerangs tucked neatly into the pockets of a large file folder.

The sport’s loose restrictions and tight cash have fostered a free- spirited, freewheeling attitude among its practitioners. Only a handful can make a living at the sport, mostly by selling boomerangs.

But many seem almost to like things that way. Asked if he wants to make boomerang throwing an Olympic sport someday, national champion Chet Snouffer said, ″I don’t think we would want to be limited by the restrictions that are needed.″

A few minutes later, he tied the world record for double throwing, simultaneously releasing two boomerangs and then successfully catching them 13 times in a row.

Other international records in the sport also make your head spin. John Flynn of White River Junction, Vt., has made 74 catches in five minutes, always hurling the boomerang at least 60 feet out. Jim Youngblood, of Northampton, has hurled a boomerang 439 1/2 feet.

Jim Kelly, eat your quarterback’s heart out.

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