On Saturday night, about 40 former baton twirlers with the University of Kentucky reunited to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the college’s Sweetheart Majorettes. They reunited during a halftime performance to promote the dying art of baton twirling. The Lexington Herald covered the event. Here is an excerpt:
In their heyday in the late 1960s, a photograph of the University of Kentucky Sweetheart Majorettes appeared in Newsweek magazine, and when the young women went out as a group, people treated them like celebrities, remembers former majorette Lynda Williams Closson.
On Saturday, at halftime of the UK-Georgia football game, about 40 former team members from various decades were twirling their batons in a performance that marked the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Kentucky Sweetheart Majorettes. Pants and T-shirts had replaced the sequined costumes of their college days, but the sparkle was still there.
I’ve mentioned a few times on the blog that my daughter Bridgy is a baton twirler. She is also a competitive gymnast. On Sunday, she competed today at the Boomer-Sooner meet and scored a 9.550 on the vault and 9.250 on the beam. It was not her best day on bars and floor; however, she still placed third in her age division. We’re very proud of her!
Bridgy is also a promising young twirler. In September, she won Delta Fair Twirltacular Champion 10-12. It was her first time to pair twirling with difficult tumbling moves like aerials and front walkovers.
Oklahoma City Baton Twirling Classes
As the Lexington Herald and the former University of Kentucky majorettes suggest, baton twirling has died in various towns and cities around the country. If not for Karen Dillier, one of Oklahoma’s only baton twirling coaches, Bridgy would not be where she is today in the sport of baton twirling. Coach Dillier has kept the sport alive in Oklahoma City. If you’re interested in taking classes, she teaches a team class every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in Yukon.
In addition to Coach Dillier, the well-known Lamb family in Enid has also contributed significantly to baton twirling in Oklahoma. Ms. Belva Lamb (mother of Lt. Governor Todd Lamb) and her two daughters run the Enid Twirling Academy. Every year, they host a twirling contest, in February. In April, they co-lead the Miss Majorette of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State Baton Twirling Championship Contest with Dillier. Next year will be Bridgy’s fourth year to compete.
Also, the Oklahoma Baton Twirling Friends Facebook group is a great resource.
The Future of Baton Twirling
Bridgy and I go to several baton twirling contests every year. Last month, we went to the Miss Maple Leaf Contest in Carthage, Missouri. Later this month we’ll be in Dallas for a clinic. As is the case with many other sports, twirlers and their parents have to travel from city to city to compete. It’s actually a lot of fun! We enjoy these trips so much as it gives us a chance to get away and connect. The traveling is the upside to competitive twirling, not the downside.
Baton Twirling is Handed Down Through the Generations
When you go to twirling contests you realize that baton twirling has not died. It has declined in popularity, but continues to draw and grow exceptional talent. Many high schools and universities around the country continue to support feature twirlers, but many do not.
Currently, there are a few feature twirlers at high schools around the Oklahoma City metro, which is super exciting. Bridgy will probably go to high school somewhere that will supports her twirling. We don’t know where that will be yet, but we’ve already started the conversation with a few band and/or athletic directors.
One thing that I am just in awe of is how baton twirling is handed down through the generations. Many advanced twirlers are the daughters of twirlers who were the daughters of twirlers and so forth and so on. It’s such a beautiful thing, and these twirlers have a great advantage. Most of the contests around the country are organized by women who twirled in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and quite often the daughters of these twirlers help with the contests, and in turn their young daughters compete. It’s a very sweet, though highly competitive subculture. Sometimes, I feel lucky that Bridgy gets to be part of this amazing thing that feels like a secret.
The Heydey of Baton Twirling
Last May, I wrote a post about why baton twirling declined in popularity. Sadly, it began with the so-called lost generation of high school athletes, Generation X. I also think another major factor 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.
When I go to contests, I always get a picture of Bridgy with a Baby Boomer or Silent Generation baton twirler. These are the women who’ve kept the sport and art of baton twirling alive in America. Without them and the strong twirling programs they built or inspired in communities across the country, Millennial and Homeland Generation twirlers would have nobody to teach them how to twirl. I’m so grateful for their many contributions of which Bridgy is a benefactor.
Every chance I get, I ask them to tell me stories about the heyday of baton twirling when 50- and 100-member twirling teams traveled the nation in charter buses and twirled at national parades and events. Back then, the annual Miss Majorette of America contest at Notre Dame featured major celebrity entertainers. From what I’ve been told, it’s still amazing, but much smaller than it use to be. Maybe someday, Bridgy and I will go.
I don’t know if baton twirling will ever be as popular as it once was. Perhaps if it becomes an Olympic sport (it’s been debated for years) it will gain in popularity. But, even if it never does, twirling has its place in American history and in America’s heart. Maybe someday, the throngs of girls going out for cheer, pom, dance and gymnastics will decide to give twirling a try.
Finally, I leave you with Laney Puhalla’s incredible 2018 performance at the World Junior Baton Twirling Championship. She twirls to The Greatest Showman’s Never Be Enough.