Interesting Stuff

Article done about the Catoctin Aires by The Frederick News Post (Nov 2013)

Baton twirling teaches skills, confidence to girls

By Susan Guynn Special to the News-Post | Posted 3 months ago

EMMITSBURG — If you want to do fijimi rolls, finger twirls and tosses, you will need a baton and lots of practice.

“It takes dedication and commitment,” said 13-year-old Rachel Bechler of Frederick. She’s been twirling batons with the Catoctin-Ettes Inc. for seven years and also pumps pompoms and twirls flags in the color guard. “I just love it.”

Twelve-year-old Abigail Adams of Rocky Ridge started twirling when she was 3 years old. “It looked fun and it was interesting,” said Abigail. “I wanted to be able to do harder tricks,” like tosses and illusions.

Earlier this year, Abigail was one of several Catoctine-Ettes who won titles at the National Baton Twirling Association’s annual competition at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. Abigail won the title of Beginner World Open Twirling Solo Champion. The Catoctin-Ettes are the Advance Champion Majorette Corps under the sanction of the Capital Area Marching Association. The pom team has been Senior Pom Team champions for several years running.

The sport has changed dramatically since Kelly Reed started twirling with the Catoctin-Ettes almost 30 years ago as a 4-year-old. Then, they were known as the Catoctin-Aires. Reed has won several titles but over the years the level of skills and requirements for competing have “really bumped up.” And while there is no maximum age for competing, Reed continues with the group, teaching a new generation how to twirl.

Donna Landsperger is director of the Catoctin-Ettes, a volunteer position she took on in 1976 when she was 16 years old. Then there were 50 to 75 kids and a 10-person drum line. The group formed around 1970 as the Green Berets, then became the Catoctin-Aires and recently became Catoctin-Ettes Inc. when the organization officially became a nonprofit, Landsperger said.

For Landsperger, this has been a childhood dream come true. As a 7-year-old, she saw a majorette group called Donna’s Twirl-ettes perform. The Twirl-ettes wore red uniforms — Landsperger’s favorite color — and was led by a woman named Donna.

“I just wanted to be that lady,” Landsperger said. She joined a baton twirler squad and continued through her teen years. “I was good at it,” she said. “We were a tightknit group of friends and we’ve stayed friends. That’s a byproduct of the activity.”

The ‘secret sport’

Baton twirling has its roots in the Samoan Islands, Landsperger said. If you’ve been there or seen photos from the region, you likely have seen men twirling and tossing fire batons.

It evolved into a girls’ sport largely because school athletics used to focus on boys. When Title IX became the law in 1972, more school athletic opportunities opened for girls, and majorette corps numbers started to dwindle around the country. Marching in parades to the cadence of the drum line couldn’t compete.

But in the 1980s, baton twirling groups saw a revival of sorts as drum lines were dropped and twirlers started to perform to music. “You can do so much more when you have music than you can with the cadence of a drumbeat,” Landsperger said.

Local, state, regional, national and world championships have raised the level of competition. “Baton twirling has its own Olympic-style championship held in different places around the world,” Landsperger said. The sport is popular in Japan and Italy, she said.

The Catoctin-Ettes don’t compete at the level, she said, but they do make national competitions. For about a decade, the regional and state competitions have been held at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg in April and May, respectively.

“This is where we need to be. We are in fundraising mode now,” she said, noting it costs about $500 to do one competition. They attend competitions at the Mount, and in the Hagerstown and Washington/Baltimore metro area. The Catoctin-Ettes also host a competition.

The group still marches in about a dozen parades every year, including the Ravens Roost parade in Ocean City, where they have been invited to perform for about 10 years. Landsperger said most people would be amazed at the skill levels of baton twirlers in competition today.

This year, Landsperger has about 20 kids (all girls), as young as 5. Practices are held at Emmitsburg Elementary School. “We get them twirling the first season,” Landsperger said. “Right away, they just want to toss (the baton). That’s what it’s all about.”

Some will become “lifers,” meaning they will stay with the sport 10 years or more. “We lose them to colleges now instead of sports,” she said. Some colleges offer scholarships for baton twirlers. The sport is open to boys, too.

“We’ll march anyone. You don’t have to be at a certain (skill) level to march here. I think anyone can learn to do this through perseverance,” Landsperger said. “It improves mental clarity and hand-eye coordination” and teaches kids about commitment and good sportsmanship.

“You get to make new friends, learn new skills, make better use of time and have to communicate with other people” and it’s a confidence builder, said Abigail.