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Passing The Baton: Blue Sapphire Talks Competition, Friendship, & Penn State Pride

A blue era is upon us, folks!

As springtime brings the start of competition season, the future is unlimited for feature twirler Blue Sapphire Mackenzie Bronk. Celebrating a successful entrance into one of the most respected roles in all of collegiate twirling, the freshman summarized her first season with one clear emotion.

“Happiness,” Bronk said. “…Because I had finally got to the point of what I’ve been wanting for so long, and just being able to actually experience it and take it all in just makes me so happy.”

A lifelong twirler from the age of six, the Owings, Maryland, native dreamt of becoming the Blue Sapphire since she first discovered the role and currently practices with Wheaton Dance Twirl Teams. While studying at various schools as a beginner, Bronk found herself paired in a big/little program with former Blue Sapphire Rachel Reiss.

“I was like, ‘What’s this, you’re twirling for your college? That’s incredible,’” Bronk said. “And, that’s just something I wanted to experience for myself, and so I’ve been driven to go to Penn State ever since that moment.”

Following her first season with the Blue Band, Bronk recently competed at the 2023 Congressional Cup Invitational on March 11 and 12. An invitation-based competition for elite twirlers across North America, the Congressional Cup has been a fixture of the twirling world since 1995.

Competing for the first time since August, Bronk was invited as an individual and represented the university with pride. Starting the season off strong, Bronk won first place as the 2023 Senior Congressional Cup Tournament champion and was also awarded the Alan Kramer Memorial Award.

“It was my first competition back since Worlds, so it was really a hard hitter, but it was fun and really exciting,” Bronk said. “All the competitors are crazy talented, and I wasn’t expecting anything, and then they called me… I was so grateful.”

Courtesy of Mackenzie Bronk

While commonly unrecognized beyond competitions, twirling uniquely requires both athletic excellence and distinct theatrical artistry.

“After twirling for Penn State, you had to project, and you had to perform,” Bronk said. “People were almost a mile away, and they had to be able to see that you were enjoying what you were doing through your body.”

Connecting with Penn State fans, Bronk credits the experience as Blue Sapphire with expanding her overall expression in performance. 

“That has to be because of the field,” Bronk said. “People said, ‘I can tell you are enjoying what you are doing.’”

Practicing her craft while achieving her lifelong goal, Bronk joins a community of former Blue Band feature twirlers committed to endless advice and support. 

“I can contact any of the Blue Sapphires, and they will give me advice like ‘Take it all in because it’s the best experience of your life,’” Bronk said. “I honestly agree already, and it’s just my first year.”

Finding family in the legacy, Bronk also has deep roots in twirling, as her mother and grandmother both practiced the sport. Her older sister, Maddie Bronk, is currently a feature twirler at Maryland and traveled to State College for the 2022 matchup. 

Courtesy of Mackenzie Bronk

A special moment arose for the duo, and Maddie joined Mackenzie on the field during a blended halftime show by the Mighty Sound of Maryland and Penn State Blue Band at Beaver Stadium.

“That ending pose when we just both got to look at each other and observe was just something that I will never forget,” Bronk said. “It was amazing… It was just like an unreal moment.”

In a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the sisters performed their award-winning duet adapted for the field and twirled in perfect synchronization.

“It’s really funny because if you watch her, she has a totally different style than me,” Bronk said of her Terrapin sister. “But, we come together, and it’s like the same person’s twirling.”

Making many memories from just her first season, Bronk also twirled at the 2023 Rose Bowl alongside her best friends and fellow members of the Blue Band. From a five-mile parade to performing live at “The Granddaddy of Them All,” the journey was unforgettable for the freshman finance major.

“We all got to travel together and share what we have: our family, our culture, and our traditions,” Bronk said. “Other people got to see that, and I just thought that was amazing in itself.” 

Courtesy of Blue Band

Committed to spreading the message of the university, Bronk is grateful for the family and friendship found at Penn State. Looking back at her first home game, she talked about the unique support of the Beaver Stadium crowd and the resulting mutual joy. 

“It was so refreshing to see them enjoying what I was doing,” Bronk said. “You can tell they actually appreciate it… It is amazing.” 

While energized by the power of the crowd, Bronk also loves to connect with Penn Staters personally beyond the field. 

“Not just performing. I like being able to come up to someone and have a conversation,” Bronk said. “Going up to kids…being able to talk to those people and fuel their Penn State pride, too, is just really special to me.”

Taking every opportunity to speak with the next generation, Bronk hopes to inspire young fans to pursue their own goals and dreams.

“And you see their face, like the excitement, and that kind of just motivates me to keep going, because I know that there’s another generation coming,” Bronk said. “It’s not just me… I want to pass this on to others.”

Serving as a role model on and off the field, Bronk explained how quickly the good times are passing by and promises to enjoy all of the possibilities the future holds, big or small. 

“It goes by so much faster than I originally thought. It’s just crazy how many people I’ve met through it and learned a lot,” Bronk said. “…So just take every second and think about where you are and what you’re doing.”

From twirling at the Rose Bowl to singing the “Alma Mater” in Beaver Stadium, the Blue Sapphire shows gratitude for the community and plans to pass the baton to the next generation. 

“When we all come together, especially that moment of the ‘Alma Mater’ no matter the outcome of the game, we all come together and just sing it,” Bronk said. “It’s that feeling, the family, the love…My Penn State pride is being able to share that with others.” 

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a senior majoring in Marketing and Psychology from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in the theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her sassy sidekick, 19-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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