PORTLAND — Watch out for flying rubber chickens at this summer’s Independence Day cookout.

An outdoor game created by a Maine inventor – in which players lob rubber birds – is one of seven nominees for the Toy Industry Association’s 2011 outdoor Toy of the Year Award.

The game is called Flickin’ Chicken, and its inventor hopes next month’s award ceremony will boost recognition of the product, which hit retail markets about two years ago.

“This is like the Academy Awards for the toy industry. Hopefully, this could mean great things, ” said Joseph Shumaker of Biddeford, the inventor of Flickin’ Chicken.

The premise of the game is simple: Grab a cold drink and three friends, throw a rubber disk across a field (or a beach) and take turns tossing rubber birds at it. Whoever hits the target first wins.

“Think of your target like the hole in golf. You probably won’t land it on the first throw, but each time you will get closer,” explains a promotional video made by the online retailer Vat19.com. Shumaker, who founded his invention firm, New Hope Products Co., in 1990, said the idea for Flickin’ Chicken came to him in 2003, when he ran across a rubber-chicken manufacturer at a toy fair.

“I took a handful home and invented this chicken-tossing game. It took about five minutes,” he said.

A few years ago, Shumaker struck a deal with Springfield, Mass.-based Haywire Group, the company that now produces, markets and sells Flickin’ Chicken.

The game was initially sold primarily at small “mom and pop” toy and game stores, said David Blanchard, Haywire’s director of sales and marketing. Recently, the game has gained popularity. It is now sold at Toys “R” Us stores and on most major retail stores’ websites.

“The game itself is very silly, and that’s what makes it so great for kids, college (students) and adults. It hits the silly mark across all age groups,” Blanchard said.

Blanchard said his company nominated Flickin’ Chicken for a Toy of the Year Award. Winners will be announced at a ceremony Feb. 12, the day before the start of the 2011 Toy Fair in New York City.

Flickin’ Chicken has been featured on NBC’s “Today” show and ABC’s “Live! with Regis and Kelly.”

Blanchard said his company’s marketing campaign has been creative and nontraditional. In April, Haywire organized an event near Boston in which 265 people tossed rubber chickens at a bull’s-eye simultaneously. The company hopes the event will be recognized by Guinness World Records.

Blanchard declined to discuss specific sales numbers for the game, which is marketed to adults and children age 6 and older.

Shumaker, who is originally from Orrington and attended the University of Maine, launched New Hope Products in 1990 in New Hampshire. In 1997, he moved the company to Maine. He now lives in Biddeford.

Shumaker said he has created 100 games, including a puzzle game called SNAP and a picture game called I Spy Eagle Eye.

He said his royalties have averaged 10 cents to 11 cents on the 4 million or so of his games that have sold over the years. That adds up to roughly $400,000.

The Toy of the Year Awards honor products in 12 categories that have been released in the past two years. Winners are those with the most votes from Toy Industry Association members.

Also up for outdoor Toy of The Year is a NERF Super Soaker squirt gun from Hasbro, a scooter called Whiplash, and a mud pie-making kitchen set from Little Tikes.

Last year’s outdoor winner was My First Scooter by Radio Flyer.

 

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or at: jhemmerdinger@mainetoday.com