WATERVILLE, Maine — The high school gym was a blur of spangles, fringes and beads as baton twirlers spun, threw and twirled Saturday during the Maine Games State Baton Twirling Championships.
There were silver blouses, sequined waists, hair adorned with stars or feathers, and everywhere were batons: batons being twirled through fingers, rolled off wrists, tossed between legs, bounced off floors, thrown overhead or spinning into a blur.
Twirling was once the rage. Many young girls had a weighted baton and spent hours on their front lawns, trying to emulate the majorettes of the marching bands. But as marching bands decreased, twirling went out of fashion.
Today, it is undergoing a revival. Part gymnastics, part dance, twirling has become a sport in some schools and has even risen to a scholarship sport at some colleges.
Diane Higgins of Verona Island started off as one of the young twirlers. She now coaches the River City Twirlers, Capital City Twirlers and Maine-E-Acts at Bangor, Bucksport and Augusta.
“This sport is for someone who dares to do something different,” she said Saturday during a break in the competition. “It’ s for the independent person. It is a sport both of the past and of the future.” Higgins said she sees a lot of generational twirlers, whose mothers or grandmothers twirled.
“The girls love the athleticism of twirling, but the little ones really love the sparkles,” she said. Glitter on cheeks, bright lipstick and fancy hairdos are part of the sport, she said.
Andrea Fletcher coaches with Higgins and twirled at Penn State, where she attended college. “Twirling is very big in the Southeast. It’ s nothing to see twirling lines of 15 girls,” she said. “Coaches and teachers just love to pass on the love of the game. It is so athletic and creative.”
Higgins said she has traveled across the country with her twirling teams. “We’ ve been to Indiana, Florida, Tennessee. My hobby became my career,” she said.
Susan Skaggs of Saco was co-commissioner of the twirling championship. She said 103 athletes and 18 teams of twirlers participated, coming from Saco, Bangor, Augusta, Boothbay and across the state. “We also have 50 athletes that are competing in individuals, pairs, two-baton, solo and strut,” she said.
Jeff Scully, director of the Maine Games, said the events are a yearlong Olympic-style sports festival, which is open to anyone who wants to sign up. Baton twirling is just one of the many events in the Games.
Maine is one of 40 participating states and the Games are part of the National Congress of State Games. Although the State Games have been around since 1978, Maine has only been participating since 2003.
“This could be a stepping stone to an Olympic career,” Scully said. In fact, one of the women who competed in wrestling in the Games earlier this year is scheduled for Olympic wrestling trials.
Scully has a vested interest: His daughter is a twirler. “It was the first event we put in the lineup,” he admitted. He said 50 percent of the Games’ events must be Olympic or Pan Am Games events — about 40 events — and 65 percent happen in a three-week window, June 14-29. This year, most Maine Games events will take place in Greater Waterville.
These include swimming, diving, tennis, weight lifting, fencing, 5K cross-country, archery, billiards, field hockey, soccer, track and field, and volleyball.
He said the Games would not happen but for a dedicated throng of volunteers.
“Today we have six judges here, all volunteers,” he said. “This is the best part, the great people. We even have people who schedule their vacations around the Games.”
Scully said the youngest participant is a 3-year-old twirler and the oldest was an 83-year-old track and field competitor. “Part of the goal of the Maine Games is to give people a goal,” he said.
His daughter, Hannah Scully, 12, isn’ t impressed with those goals or tradition. “I just love twirling,” she said. “It’ s so much fun. It’ s not about the costumes or the makeup for me. It’ s about twirling.”