She can twirl if she wants to

An Aberdeen High freshman is fighting for the return of batons in high school bands

December 31, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Emily Hogan threw a flaming baton up in the air and spun around, catching it on the way down.

Puffs of smoke billowed out of the baton as she twirled to the music of the Marching Eagles, the 65-member band at Aberdeen High School.

The performance, which took place during the recent holiday parade in Aberdeen, seemed a natural and traditional combination of twirler and marching band. However, it is an uncommon pairing, particularly in Harford County.

The 14-year-old Belcamp resident is the only twirler in the county school system allowed to perform with her school's band during competitions.

And it took almost as much work to land a spot in the band as it did for her and the Marching Eagles to prepare for their most prestigious performance - tomorrow the band will participate in the 21st annual New Year's Day Parade in London. Emily will lead the band on a 2-mile route in front of about half a million spectators.

"I did not even think I would get to perform with a band at all," said Emily, who also serves as the manager of the school's wrestling team. "So it is very exciting for me to get to be the band's featured twirler in London."

Although the London trip is a highlight, Emily envisions a bigger accomplishment: She wants baton twirling recognized as a sport so that she and other twirlers can participate in competitions and vie for college scholarships.

"Not recognizing baton twirling as a sport is denying a lot of girls a scholarship and a chance to go to college," she said. "In Harford County, there are a lot of girls who compete on teams before high school with private groups. Then they get to high school, and they cannot compete with a team any longer. I want to see that change."

Emily has joined an effort initiated by the National Coalition for the Advancement of Baton Twirling, which is organizing college twirlers in an attempt to get twirling recognized as a sport by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Although Emily cannot help with the college clubs, she is spreading the word through her performances.

"The NCAA will not even consider batons as a sport until 20 colleges have baton clubs," she said. "So I am trying to promote baton twirling at this level to get people more enthusiastic about batons. And then maybe more girls will push for clubs when they go to college."

Her first step was positioning herself to reach her peers. Emily had to get accepted as part of a high school marching band, which proved to be more difficult than the freshman anticipated.

Emily's inquiries about twirling at the high school level revealed that only C. Milton Wright High allowed a twirler, who was prohibited from performing with the band in competitions. When Emily asked the band director at Edgewood High if she could twirl for the band, the response was "No."

"It was one of those situations where they did not want a twirler, and it is their choice," she said. "People have this idea that baton twirling is just a little girlie sport, and it is not."

But she did not give up and approached Aberdeen High. Band director Kevin Gardiner had a soft spot for baton twirlers - his mother twirled.

"Several years back when schools eliminated baton twirlers, I thought they got the raw end of the deal," said Gardiner, who has been the band director for four years. "I try to include any student who wants to participate. So when Emily came to me, I thought why not give her a chance."

As he was preparing for the trip to London, he said he was happy with his decision. Most band directors do not know how to train baton twirlers, he said. This can be a determining factor in whether a band has a twirler.

"Emily has a lot of experience, so she has never been a burden," he said. "As a matter of fact, she adds a lot to our program. She has experience doing moves to a sequence of music. I cannot see how anyone would not want her."

Emily's experience includes winning competitions such as Miss Valley Forge in Pennsylvania, and the Miss Majorette of Maryland Modeling competition, she said. Gardiner said Emily's skills proved useful to his flag team.

"Our flags have been struggling, and Emily came to band camp and taught them stuff on the first day that they did not know," he said.

Baton twirlers used to be more prevalent with county marching bands. Twirling was phased out of the county band programs during the 1980s, said James Boord, supervisor of music for county schools. One downside was the notion that batons are not visual enough and did not add color to a band's presentation.

"When I started teaching band in 1981, we had six baton twirlers in the band," he said. "But you could not see them from a distance. All you had was three feet of thin metal pole, because pyrotechnics of any sort are not allowed in the competitions. Flags have more flash to their movement, so band directors switched to flag teams."

Ultimately, the band programs are left up to the band directors at each school, Boord said.

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