I Went To The Blue Sapphire Classic And All I Got Was This Post
As an alien to the sport of twirling, I entered Rec Hall yesterday without a clue as to what I should expect. Shortly after I arrived, I wandered onto the gym floor in an attempt to find my guide for the afternoon, dodging dozens of batons flying through the air, as competitors practiced their routines. After a few minutes of wondering if I’d stumbled into an episode of Toddlers & Tiaras, Jackie Stare, captain of the Penn State Majorettes, came to my rescue.
Stare, who spent her day volunteering rather than competing, explained the ins and outs of twirling competitions to me as we watched twirler after twirler dazzle the crowd and judges.
“I really enjoy showing outsiders the twirling world because it’s something they normally haven’t seen before,” she told me after the competition. “Their reactions are so appreciative of the talent and hard work.” I can definitely say that was the case for me.
Jackie introduced me to the event’s “celebrities,” one being Penn State’s current Feature Twirler, Matt Freeman. For him, The Blue Sapphire Classic meant showing off the place he calls home to his competition.
“I think the neatest thing about it is having everyone come to our hometown to compete on our home turf,” said Freeman. “We practice here [at Rec Hall], and to share our campus with this many other twirlers is really special. They get to experience how we get to live here at Penn State and they get a sense of our culture. It also helps to spark some interest in Penn State from twirlers, so it does good in both directions.”
University of Maryland Feature Twirler Dani VanScoyk agreed, adding, “I was excited to sign up for this one. Penn State makes it fun, and Rec Hall is a great facility.”
Six former Blue Sapphires attended this year’s Classic, including Lori Uhazie and John Mitchell, who came from California to judge the event. Twirlers ranging in age from toddlers to fifth-year college seniors competed in divisions split up both by age and skill level. Proceeds from The Classic benefit the Lori Bowers and David Uhazie Endowed Scholarship, which is given to the Blue Band Feature Twirler each year.
At the heart of the event stood (well, dashed, as she hardly had time to stand still) former Blue Sapphire PJ Maierhofer. For her, The Classic meant giving back to the Penn State Majorette program, and she made sure to give credit to the Blue Band, Majorettes, and other volunteers for their work in making it a success.
“I like that I get to do the work while seeing everyone else play a part too,” Maierhofer said excitedly when asked what she doesn’t do (it’s not much) in organizing the event. “It’s like our own little Homecoming.”
“PJ has been the perfect example for me,” said Freeman of his predecessor as Penn State’s Feature Twirler. “She left a legacy at Penn State.”
A common question I had for Jackie, Matt, PJ, and Penn State Majorettes head coach Heather Bean surrounded the unfamiliarity that most, like me, have with the sport. When I asked them what would surprise an outsider most about twirling, all mentioned the skill level and age range in those who compete.
“The talent that twirling has is truly an athletic event that people don’t even realize,” Bean explained with a twinkle of pride in her eyes. “Twirling combines so many different parts of your body to coordinate with one piece of equipment. It’s also amazing to watch the different levels, from little kids through college kids.”
Over 600 athletes have competed in The Classic over the course of the past three years, with about 220 competing yesterday. Many of the country’s most talented twirlers, including members of Team USA who will travel to Switzerland in April to compete in the World Baton Twirling Championships, also made the trip to Rec Hall. Some competitors came from as far as Iowa, according to the organizers.
“It makes us realize that we’re growing when you know kids are taking off a Friday and a Monday to be here,” Maierhofer said proudly. She captured the spirit of the day as we wrapped up our conversation, pausing to soak up the atmosphere before rushing back to her endless list of responsibilities.
“For so many of us, this (event) is a source of pride. It’s something you don’t really ‘get’ unless you have the experience, and when you come back, it shows that the program continues to grow. When we say ‘for the future and for the glory,’ both are present here today.”