VALLEY FALLS, Kan. (AP) — He was supposed to gather firewood.
But being supposed to and actually doing something can be very different for 12-year-old boys. True to inquisitive boyhood form, Noah Schmeissner went off into the woods near his family's vacation property and got preoccupied.
"I got pretty bored," Noah said.
He grabbed some fallen hedge apples and started juggling. Clearly, he had a knack for the sideshow skill.
"My mom was kind of entertained," Noah said. "But she wanted me to load wood."
Valley Falls juggler Noah Schmeissner talks about his talent, which has garnered him some attention.
After thousands of hours of watching YouTube juggling videos, and many more hours practicing in his family's Valley Falls kitchen, Noah, now 15 and about to enter his sophomore year at Valley Falls High School, has honed his skills enough to even consider juggling as a career someday. He's had several commercial auditions, and invitations to perform at various events in the state are trickling in.
On weekends, his family travels the region to a variety of juggling exhibitions and contests. This month he'll be in Sioux Falls, S.D., for the World Juggling Federation Convention and at the the Kansas City Juggling Festival. Some events include competitions; others are simply an exhibition forum and chance for young jugglers like Noah to learn new tricks.
"I never knew it was this whole sport thing," said Noah's mom, Baretta, who has slowly accepted the nonstop juggling in her kitchen.
"I'm cooking and it smashes me," joked Baretta, who must keep vigilant of any errant ball or plastic club that slips from Noah's routine.
"I have a danger zone," Noah said. "Like 10 feet."
Thanks to 20-foot ceilings, the kitchen is Noah's workshop, and for several hours every day the family, which includes his dad, Chris, and twin sister, Andrea, get steady entertainment.
Clubs, neon-colored rings and balls of all colors and sizes litter the family room.
"I used to have such a nice house," Baretta said.
Noah explains some of his tricks, with names such as a "pancake stack" or "side swap." He's learned the numbering system used by jugglers describing each ball, and as he rattles off the desired path of the objects, it's pretty easy to get lost in what sounds more like a mathematical equation than juggling.
It's a lot more fun to just watch Noah as he flings orange rings in the air, and after about a half-minute, drop each one around his head with successive "clack, clacks," the pancake stack nicely piled on his shoulders.
It's taken a lot practice to get where he is, but mom and sister explain that Noah has always been "über-coordinated" and excels at sports requiring hand-eye coordination, such as baseball — he plays for his school team — or table tennis, which he plays in the basement.
Noah said he's drawn to juggling because there's always room for improvement, always a new trick to master. Juggling three balls eases into four, then five, then seven, which Noah is currently working on.
"Seven's hard, but it's a show-stopper," he said.
Someday, he'll tackle the holy grail of juggling: nine balls.
"There's never-ending progress," Noah said. "No matter how much you practice, you can always get better."