GREENVILLE — With sharp eyes and a focused mind, Josh Januzelli blocks out all the sounds and movement around him, concentrating instead on the three colored bean balls falling back down into his open palm.
Januzelli, a fifth-grade student at Greenville’s Baldwin Heights Elementary School, is one of 10 students third through sixth grade who make up the elementary school’s Z Club, a group of amateur jugglers.
The club, which meets once a week after school from October to March, began three years ago under the juggling tutelage of Lori Hostetler, a teacher at Baldwin Heights and hobby juggler.
Beginning in third grade, students are invited to tryouts and after 10 sessions if they can go from A to Z each letter representing a toss and catch they are accepted into the club.
Of the 40 or so kids who attempt, about 10 percent make it to that point.
And those who stick with it, Hostetler said, see drastic improvement in their juggling skills.
“When the kids first come to me they can’t exchange two balls,” she said. By the end, most can juggle a multitude of items, balls, rings or pins, in a number of different ways.
But it takes dedication.
“I practice everyday for about 10 minutes,” said Alex Phillips, a fourth-grade student.
As practice Tuesday winded down, students were rushing to ask which props they could take home to practice with. The spring talent show is near and they wanted to hone their skills.
And juggling isn’t for the apathetic.
“You can’t get discouraged when you do a new trick or you won’t get anywhere,” said fifth-grade club member Cody Krause, now in his third year.
Perseverance is key, even more so than the focus it takes, because there will be failure.
“If you drop it, you have to pick it up and keep going,” Krause said.
Juggling, while very difficult, is something pretty much anyone can learn, if they put in the practice.
And most come back year to year, sticking with it through fifth grade, and in some cases sixth grade.
Currently 10 members strong, Z Club is preparing routines for a talent show Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Greenville Performing Arts Center.
Switching between the rings, balls and pins, students will put on a three-minute show. Some drop to their knees mid toss, others juggle in tandem, tossing the prop between them.
One could never tell just 10 weeks ago they didn’t know the first thing about juggling.
The extra tricks are something Hostetler is more than willing to teach. The effectiveness of them, however, depends on the students.
“When they get to Z, it’s amazing, but where they go from there is up to them,” she said.
As the year goes on, the improvement for the students is exponential, so much so that even Hostetler finds herself having to practice every now and then.
“I have to stay a step ahead of these guys because they’re getting so much better,” she joked.
While they are focused on bettering their juggling skills, students are also bettering themselves, even if they don’t know it.
“It’s a great brain activity. It uses all the parts of the brain at the same time,” Hostetler said. “I always tell them it makes them smarter.”
And the skills learned can be translated far beyond the stage.
“It’s so disciplined, it transfers to all aspects of life,” she said. “They grow and mature. I just love these kids, they’re so amazing.”
But for the kids, it’s all about having fun while doing something unique.
“I kind of want to be the cool kid who can juggle,” Phillips said with a smile on her face.