A few weeks ago, I took my daughter to the Southwest Regionals Baton Twirling Championship in Amarillo. Bridgy is a novice twirler who represents a new generation in the sport.
World Baton Twirling Day
While we were at the competition we heard an announcement about World Baton Twirling Day. The event was held on April 10, and was designed to raise awareness about the sport of baton twirling.
During the heyday of baton twirling, there were as many 1 million girls taking lessons and twirling across America. In 2001, that number declined to between 150,000 and 200,000. (Source: Lubbock Online) Today, twirling, which is now referred to as a sport, is building toward a comeback thanks to advocacy campaigns organized by the World Baton Twirling Federation in coordination with the the National Baton Twirling Association and the United States Twirling Association.
Why Did Baton Twirling Decline in Popularity?
During the 1960s and 70s, twirlers and/or majorettes were a part of every hometown football game halftime show as well as pre-game festivities like pep rallies. But, during the 1980s twirling declined in popularity and the magic of sparkly costumes, majorette boots, fire batons and the like began to fade from many a local gridiron. The reasons are varied, but for starters, twirling declined during the lost generation of high school athletes, when lack of interest in high school sports like basketball, football and baseball began to grow. That “lost generation” was Generation X, which was born between 1961 and 1981. Gen-Xers entered K-12 during twirling’s decline.
From The Lost Generation of High School Athletes, November 14, 2016 (jenX67.com):
Back in 1987, Phil English was a sports reporter for the Northwest Herald. He covered the situation in a four-part series. Here were some of the key facts he reported:
- The role of the family as primary spectator was lost. (In 1987, the parents and grandparents of the Gen-Xers playing sports were Baby Boomers or Traditionalists — often referred to as the Silent or Lucky Generation.
- 20- to 30 year-olds did not attend high school games. (In 1987, this included late wave Boomers born between 1957 and 1960 and first wave Gen-Xers born between 1960 and 1967.)
- Students (in 1987, exclusively Gen X) were pulled in a multitude of directions and did not attend high school games with the same frequency or fervor as the generations who came before them.
- More girls participated in sports, which divided spectators and possibly contributed to declining numbers at the all-boys games. Also, more kids specialized in sports outside of school.
- For the first time, high school sports competed with a wide availability of professional sports on TV.
- More students worked part-time jobs, which may have contributed to smaller fan-bases.
- A growing number of alternative forms of entertainment such as cable TV and movie rentals lured fans away.
- People were no longer energized or entertained by the games.
- A lack of leadership from local and state sports associations may have contributed to the problem.
The Impact of Title IX and Generation X Women
Another major factor in twirling’s decline was the 1972 passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments. The new law required public schools to provide equal access to girls and boys in all athletic programs. Instead of twirling with the band or cheering on the sidelines, girls could play varsity sports. According to Tammy Erickson, author of What’s Next, Gen X?: Keeping Up, Moving Ahead, and Getting the Career You Want, Title IX had a big impact on Generation X as it banned sex discrimination in schools and led to a dramatic increase in the number of girls and women enrolled in school sports programs.
Also, high school marching band directors reportedly became disenchanted with twirlers and majorettes who stole attention away from the band. They shifted their support to flag girls, color guard and rifle corps, and today, frequently refuse to integrate twirlers into halftime performances.
Georgia Mom Fights For Daughter To Twirl with High School Band
Most recently, the mother of a twirler in Georgia, started an iPetition campaign just so her daughter can twirl with her high school band. She writes:
Kristy is an upcoming Senior at East Hall and has looked forward to twirling for the East Hall Band since she started twirling at the age of six. She was not allowed to her Freshman, Sophomore or Junior year because they had a twirler and the director would not let Kristy try out or twirl along side the other twirler on the field. Yes only one can go to the 2 or 3 competitions unless you have more than 4 – we volunteered not to go to the competitions; she just wanted to twirl on the field. There’s been at least 3 other twirlers in the last couple of years that wanted to twirl as well my daughter isn’t the only crushed my this decision. Well the current twirler graduates this year and instead of letting Kristy twirl her senior year he has decided there isn’t enough interest in twirling so he’s cutting it from the program. Kristy holds several state and regional titles but can’t showase her talent for her home football team. Let’s show the director that there is plenty of interest in seeing a twirler on the field! A million signatures may not change his mind but I won’t go down without a fight!!!”
A New Generation of Baton Twirlers
Finally, twirling suffers from a variety of image problems, but twirling champions are helping bring a whole new generation into the sport. Plus, enough credit cannot be given to the twirling coaches who have remained passionate about the sport for decades. They are the lifeblood of baton twirling across America.