Joel Purcell hasn't put in an order for business cards yet. If he ordered some at this point all he could print on them would be "Second place, IJA Juniors." So he's waiting until next July, when he plans to be able to label them with "Winner, IJA Juniors."
Many jugglers might be satisfied with what Purcell has already accomplished. The 15-year-old Fairfax, Va., 9th grader has won the school talent show every year since 6th grade, won the juniors division of the Virginia Juggling Championships in 1988, and won the Kings Dominion theme park employee talent show professional division prize. His win in the specialty division of the Washington, D.C., Citywide Talent Search last year led him to further auditions and an eventual place in the lineup for the pay-for-view televised show, Amateur Night At The Apollo Theatre. The show was taped in New York in late November.
But second place in the IJA Juniors last summer in Los Angeles isn't good enough for Purcell. "I have to improve my technique, work on form, and all the little things that most people don't practice, but which amount to so much," he said.
His second place routine in Los Angeles was much better than eight place in Baltimore, but he's hoping that in St. Louis his third try will be the charm. He described his Los Angeles routine as "nothing great," but it included three to five clubs, three to five rings and three and four clubs. He believes rings are his strongest prop, and plans to work hard on them this year. "I'll be doing six and seven rings, and seven while spinning one on a leg," he said.
A visit to Anthony Gatto in Las Vegas last year inspired him to work on some combination tricks, also, like juggling while bouncing a ball on his head. That one was proving very difficult, but he was having success with balancing a club on his chin while juggling.
His coach, Benji Hill, has been stressing form as they work together toward more difficult material. The philosophy is to limit the motion of the lower body to help the juggler gain greater control with the upper body. "Benji says if you can teach someone never to move their lower body, they'll always keep their balance," Purcell said.
Hence, he began practicing six rings while standing on one foot and holding a ring on the other, raised, foot. Same for seven balls and seven rings. "You don't have to be able to make a lot of tosses to get a trick solid that way," Purcell said. "If you can do 20 throws standing on one foot, you can do 40 when you put both feet on the ground later."
Purcell said he saw his biggest improvement in juggling last summer when he worked full-time at Kings Dominion theme park. With five stage shows a day, every day, improvement came quickly. During the school year he kept a weekend job there until the park closed, and also practiced two hours a day in his school gym. Fridays are spent with the D.C. Jugglers, and Monday nights with the Baltimore Jugglers.
He advises other potential competitors to practice, practice and practice some more. Each trick must be almost 100 percent certain before you dare chance it on the IJA stage, he said. That's because, he explained, "Everything is going to increase by ten on stage - your adrenaline, the crowd, lights, and the pressure."
With that in mind, he said the experience of working regularly in front of crowds at Kings Dominion was invaluable preparation for the competitions.
He learned to juggle from his father, who learned years ago in California. But the championships were all his own idea. "They're important because they push you to work harder," said Purcell. "I want to win the Juniors."
Beyond that, he's leaving his future options open. "I'd like to be a juggler, but it's so tough to do well at it," he said. "If I could get into Las Vegas rather than something cheesy, though, I'd be a juggler. Otherwise, I'm interested in acting and did a lot of clothes modeling as a kid. I'm also interested in art and architecture, or maybe I could do like my dad and go into the Navy. Or maybe I could be an FBI agent..."