Market Square is bursting with buskers most nights and weekends. Few have as large a following as Steve Davis, the originator of Steve’s Hoops. One of my family’s first memories of downtown Knoxville is hooping in the Square. We can hardly tear the kids away once they get started, and now that I have relearned how to hoop, you’ll find me joining in the fun, too.
I had the chance to interview Steve recently. This 73-year-old retiree is just as joy-filled as you would imagine. Steve grew up in St. Mary’s, FL, the third of eight children. In 1972, he followed a girl up to Knoxville and has been here ever since. He has two grown sons in the area. Steve had a long career in construction, which is fitting as he is the grandson of a German carpenter. He said that he has always taken great pride in what he does. He got his Tennessee contractor license in 1994 and worked on many projects through the years. His last big one was Tellico Village. He scaled down to remodeling and is now retired.
Steve had a friend teach him how to hoop a few years ago, and he’s been at it ever since. He says retirement can be boring if you let it be, so he decided to take some hula hoops to Market Square 5 years ago and see what happened. It was a tremendous success. What started with 6-7 hoops has now grown to 25 hoops, jump ropes, batons, and other active toys, a Spotify playlist he is very proud of, and hours of fun for people in the Square.
His favorite quote is one by George Bernard Shaw. “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
He feels that loading up his car with the hoops, etc., and taking them out to the Square is his way of providing a way for people to continue to be active in play. He sees many who walk through looking at their phones, and when they notice the play going on, they put the phones away and light up with joy. He watches parents actively engaging with their children and loves hearing the squeals of delight from the little ones.
I met his girlfriend, Sarah, and her two daughters, El and Issy, who come out most weekends to help and support Steve. They have as much fun as the younger kids. Sarah and I talked about the body and brain benefits of hooping. I had not given it much thought, but after talking with her and doing internet research, I found plenty of articles that tout the benefits of hooping. These include increased cardiovascular fitness, strengthened core muscles, and improved balance. It can also have a cognitive and meditative effect as you focus on the music playing and sustaining the motion to keep the hula hoop up. This uses both sides of the brain, a vital skill for creating strong motor skills. Here’s an article from Health Canal about hooping.
Every hula hoop is not for every person. At first, I grabbed a small one, but Steve quickly stopped me and handed me a much larger hoop. I have not hooped since I was a kid, so I was a little nervous about trying it out in front of a crowd of people, but Steve gave great instructions, and I was hoping for the best of them! (Them being the beginners that are 1/3 my age.) He says seeing the look of pride on a child’s face when they conquer something they didn’t think they could do. I know my face lit up when I got the hang of it again.
I asked Steve what keeps him coming back weekend after weekend. He said that the joy and smiles he sees on people’s faces are the most significant reward he gets. He doesn’t drink or smoke but says happiness and joy are his addictions. He wants to give Knoxvillian’s some good, clean fun on weekends. He has regulars who tell him how they miss him when he can’t come out, and he has folks from other states who come to join the fun when they visit and stay in touch when they leave.
While what Steve provides is always free to the public, he does accept donations like other buskers downtown. He does incur some expenses needing to replace old hoops, etc. If you enjoy what he is doing, this is a great way to support him. It doesn’t take long to see for yourself the joy he is bringing to Knoxville.