The Our Lady of Perpetual Help gym was the place to be on the morning of Saturday, April 25, as the OLPH Twirlers hosted the New York Twirling Organization’s 2015 Championship competition, the 39th of its kind.
Jillian Tapper, Miss New York 2014, was among those in attendance. A former baton twirler herself, with experience in Florida State University’s Marching Chiefs, Tapper promotes her own personal platform, “Amaze Me,” a mentoring initiative designed to encourage individuals to become members. She also gave a keynote speech.
“It’s been an incredible experience,” said Tapper. “Baton twirling is my passion, so to be able to see so many girls in New York twirling and loving it and just enjoying the experience, it means so much to me.”
Besides OLPH – who participated in their 32nd competition, four other schools were also featured – three from Queens (Sacred Heart Twirlers, Nativity/St. Stanislaus Twirlers and City Twirlers) and one from the Bronx (P.S. 58 Electric Twirlers), along with individual members.
The competition also had a Grand Champion Twirloff, which saw Bernadette Gottlieb beat Tabitha Mehl. Gottlieb was coached by her mother, Mary Byrne, who also participated as an individual member.
According to Helen Palmeri of Sacred Heart, everybody there was a volunteer, with only the judges being paid due to having state certifications.
“The children may not realize it, but I make sure the parents do, [that] everybody is giving their time and talent,” said Palmeri.
Palmeri spoke of the unsure future of baton twirling, saying a lot of it depended on the participation numbers, and she also pointed to expensive gym fees.
“Even though it’s not the biggest championship that we’ve had, the children really were excited,” said Palmeri. “Miss New York – that whole thing happening — was something we never would have thought of in September when we tried to come up with ideas. I hope there’s a future. I think that it’ll be a smaller one, but I hope there’s one.”
Palmeri also compared baton twirling to being in a dancing school, but with one clear difference.
“With twirling, you’re not going to get instant gratification,” said Palmeri. “You have to work on it.”
Cecilia Fedyn, who coaches OLPH’s Twirlers, called it a great day, given the room’s positive energy and the inspiration of Tapper on the girls, and said she was confident they would go on to do amazing things.
“We bring recreational twirling programs to the community that actually go beyond twirling,” said Fedyn. “We teach gymnastics, baton, ballet, jazz, and it’s a low-cost program for all these girls. Tapper talked about her experiences as a child and I like the fact that she inspired even me and all the other coaches as well to keep doing something that you love, so it’s a dream. I’m happy to do this for the children, because it’s all about them in the end.”