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Teacher uses the boomerang as a work of art, a science project and fun

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(BARTLESVILLE) - Steve Graham can take a simple stick and turn it into a work of art, a science project and a recreational opportunity.

The boomerang, with its mysterious complexities and aerodynamic power, is a source of joy for Graham, who creates recreational throwing sticks for adults and children alike from his Bartlesville classroom and studio.

The lessons of the sporting sticks, which magically return to the thrower, are almost infinite. As for the students in his Richard Kane Elementary School art classes, they are learning more than they ever suspected was possible. ``They love it,'' Graham said. ``They can't wait to do it. They don't know what it entails, that they are going to learn all this science and history and culture.''

Graham's elementary school students learn the basics of boomerang making and throwing with simple tools. Their boomerangs are made of paint sticks and rubber bands, or cut from sheets of plastic.

Megan Pursell, a Kane fourth-grader, enjoyed making both plastic and wooden boomerangs in Graham's class. It is a lesson that produced a toy worthy of hours of entertainment.

``It's nice having some boomerangs,'' Pursell said. ``You can fly them both inside and out. When you throw it, you can see all the colors and it looks really cool. I enjoyed making them.''

Graham likes to experiment with fancy materials and a whole wealth of creative designs on personalized boomerangs he fashions for sale on his Graham's Boomerangs Web site.

Ranging in price from $10 to $40, Graham's boomerangs are clearly a work of love. With a wide variety of shapes and imaginative designs available, Graham tests each product to make sure it's going to be fun in the field - for the sport is as important as the art in each of these boomerangs.

Graham has been making boomerangs for about a decade, but he's been throwing them for 15 years.

A member of the U.S. Boomerang Association, Graham keeps up with professional boomerang throwers from around the globe.

There are some 200 boomerang-throwing enthusiasts, including Graham, who regularly engage in long e-mail discussions about physics, fluid dynamics and other deep thoughts.

``My main thing is not to sell boomerangs,'' Graham said. ``I sell enough to buy my supplies to make them. I just want to get people more interested in the art of boomerangs and the sport of it. I love to throw. Anyone who buys a boomerang and wants to meet at the park some time, I will.''

Some of Graham's students have spent many hours at the park and on the school campus, throwing boomerangs they made in his class and others they fashioned at home.

Ealisa Schwermer, a Kane fourth-grader, is among those who liked boomerangs so much she wanted to repeat the lesson at home.

``I made one with U.S.A. pictures with flags and stuff, and I made another one with all these different colors,'' Schwermer said. ``I made another one at home, but I haven't gotten it to fly right yet. I think I need to flatten it out.''

Graham would love to have regular boomerang-throwing sessions, but it's difficult to schedule such events in Oklahoma. Anything more than a gentle breeze makes throwing a boomerang a wasted effort, if the idea is to get the stick to return anywhere close to the throwing spot. That means Oklahoma's consistent winds keep the boomerangs in the closet more than in the air.

He is a stickler for safety and gives instructions with his boomerangs to teach people to wear goggles, throw properly and be aware of their surroundings when at play.

Graham's first boomerang lessons came from a book he purchased as a high school student from Oklahoma City's Omniplex Science Museum. The book, ``Boomerang: How to throw it and how to catch it,'' by Ben Rune, was the first selection in a library of materials Graham has since collected on one of his favorite subjects.

As the local boomerang expert, Graham has taught classes on making boomerangs for Price Tower Arts Center and Westside Community Center Summer Arts Program. He also has conducted demonstrations in Tulsa. He hopes to do more motivational talks and travel to share his love and knowledge of boomerangs.

Part of his mission is dispelling misconceptions about the purpose of boomerangs. One message he teaches is that boomerangs aren't weapons.

``I had this guy come up and say, `Hey, get that thing away from me,''' Graham said. ``Boomerangs are not used as a weapon, and they were never used to hunt with.''
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