A hobby to the extreme: student uses talent to motivate others

Jimmy Pyles

Just like any other kid in third grade, Zachary Watson saw a toy and wanted it. Little did he know, the trick sticks he saw his uncle playing with would become the basis of his career.

Fourteen years after the senior mathematics and history education major started trick sticking, he was challenged to give a speech to 800 sixth, seventh and eighth grade students at Castle North Middle School.

“This was the first real speech I have given,” Watson said

He said he uses the trick sticks to keep the audience’s attention and that the sticks help him keep his energy trough the entire speech.

“After the presentation the students emailed and Facebooked to tell me who much they enjoyed the presentation,” Watson said. “Not only did they tell how much they liked it, they told me, ‘You really changed me,’ then gave me an excerpt from my speech verbatim.”

He said seeing all 800 students – all cliques and types of people – with their undivided attention on him was “very special.” They listened to his presentation, enjoyed it and gave him a standing ovation, he said.

“So after my first speech I knew I could use my talent to galvanize change,” Watson said.

Since that first show three years ago, Watson has done about 160 shows total. About 100 of them were motivation speeches and the rest were entertainment only.

He has given speeches for schools, organizations and even one in jail about leadership and responsibility. All of his speeches have a positive message covering everything from bullying to anti-drug/alcohol.

“I have done speeches at a lot of different places. It’s just something very special to me. … Yeah, I have got this cool talent, but if can change lives in many venues by means of using the trick sticks, that makes this all the more special.”

Motivational speaking performances are his favorite but are harder to do than purely entertaining speeches, he said. 

“They take more time because I have to write and practice my speech,” Watson said. “Also, I have to make sure it fits the audience.”

He said he has to keep his audience’s cultural background and personality in mind when constructing a speech.

“I can’t give a speech to Castle High school … then turn around and use the same speech at Bosse or Harrision High Schools. It would be silly for me to do that because I would get booed or the students wouldn’t listen.”

He said he’s glad he has a back-up to his speeches and performances with a college degree. He said teaching is a good choice because “I can’t put all my eggs in one basket.”

“What if I lose my arm – can’t do trick sticks anymore? But I can still, of course, teach,” Watson said. 

He even gets to mix the two in the class he student teaches, he said.

“I teach math with them by taking pictures in the dark using the LED trick sticks and having the students map out the angles and the trajectory,” Watson said.

Watson thinks that being a motivational speaker and a teacher are very similar when it comes to teaching students, he said.

However, he says he thinks there’s a difference between going into a school one time for 50 minutes – giving a presentation with lots of passion and trying to cause change or make students understand the importance of something – and going into a classroom for 50 minutes, five days a week, with the same mentality.

“One is a one-time deal and you better make an impact, (and the other is) making a perpetually long-lasting, everyday impact as a teacher,” Watson said.

If teaching or performing doesn’t work, he can make and sell trick sticks through a branch of his speaking company, Trix Stix LLC.

Watson made his first pair of trick sticks in fifth grade but it wasn’t until two years ago that they were finally good enough to produce and sell.

“I have always Trix Stix by hand,” Watson said. “The hardest part was getting the length and weight right so the sticks would have balance and control.”

With much trial and error, Watson now sells 67 different styles and has four toy stores that carry his stick. He also sells them online.

Like Watson, freshman computer science major Randy Hagy started playing with trick sticks at a young age. However, eventually his childhood toy started to get old and worn down.

“I was looking to buy new trick sticks and found his website,” Hagy said. “When I saw that he went to USI I got really excited.”

Hagy never thought to make his own sticks before finding out that Watson made his from hand, he said.

After trying Watson’s Trix Stix at a Cub Scout day camp, Hagy knew he wanted to get a pair.

“My older pair of sticks were not as well made and (were) a lot heaver, which made sticking harder,” Hagy said. “The first time I picked up the trick sticks he created, it was a totally different experience. They were easier to control.”