Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Stick Throwing is an Art

The definition of sport has loosened its grip. When society thinks about ideal sports usually football, baseball, soccer, tennis and swimming are contenders. Even curling can be added to the list! Haven’t you heard? Heaving an oversized weight down ice and waving a broom around like a wacky inflatable tube man is a sport. What’s next? Butt racing? Race you to the end of the hallway, but remember no feet can touch the ground! There is a point here. Curling has become a respectable “Olympic” sport; the same cannot be said for baton twirling. Throwing a metal stick in the air is inferior to skillfully working a broom. A lot of people see twirling as a waste of time and essentially, a cake walk. Taking a second look might surprise some spectators with the intricacies of holding a baton and the dangerously attention-grabbing moves.

Let’s rewind and break down baton twirling. What the heck is it? Baton twirling incorporates rhythmic gymnastics, ambidexterity, athleticism, and stage presence. You must be able to multitask; driving and texting at the same time doesn’t count. Twirlers have to look at the audience, properly release their lifts, watch the arm placement, spin on the top of toes, and remember to hold on to that sucker! Baton twirling has been around a lot longer than people would expect. The sport started over in Eastern Europe and at festivals. The participants juggled knives and even tossed sticks. The idea of twirling and tossing carried into the armies where the enlisted spun rifles while marching. Sound familiar? Marching bands began featuring a rifle twirler as the main attraction. Some locations began using “maces” which are heavier, unbalanced versions of batons. Drum majors began complaining that the maces were so uneven it became difficult to do high tosses and more challenging tricks. What might a solution to the problem be? Batons; they were given light rubber tips on each end and a hollow metal to sustain balance. Oh, it was also a lot less likely to give you brain damage than a mace or rifle too. Women really grabbed on to this innovative design and began taking baton seriously. Baton twirling came to the United States after the Civil War. Like any sport, baton twirling started with very few members and gradually grew. What started as an activity for fun at a fair has grown into quite the spirited atmosphere.

The World Baton Twirling Federation (WBTF) is what we would call an equivalent to the Olympics. They held the first World Championships in 1980 in Seattle, Washington. Hard to believe a little over twenty years ago, baton twirling established a serious competition. Twirlers come from all over (France to South Africa) to strut their stuff in single and group pieces and with multiple batons. Like many sports, the most important element of excelling is the training. It does not matter if a person can toss a baton in the air and spin around six times. Judges and coaches pay attention to the way a twirler executes each step, not just whether or not he or she catches the baton. Practice does make perfect. What complicates and intensifies the sport is the risk. You are never one hundred percent guaranteed a catch; there is always that one percent risk of dropping. It is the athlete’s job to practice and not drop the baton at all costs. So much for just tossing sticks around, eh?

As the sport continues to flourish, new variations of batons are appearing: fire, ribbon, hoop, light stick, and flag batons. These are just a few of the crazy options offered for twirlers. If you have potential, dedication, and drive, you could be a twirling machine too. Sports are all about determination and teamwork. Baton twirling is more than just fiddling a metal rod between fingers and prancing around in leotards. I do not recommend telling twirlers that they are not participating in a sport; this will result in a wallop to the side of your head with a baton. It will hurt.

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