My girls competed on Saturday in their second ever baton twirling contest. Like with the first, I was very, very proud of both of them and their entire team — their performances, yes, but more importantly, their attitudes, their sportsmanship, and their pure enjoyment of the event. But Saturday’s competition inadvertently brought up another topic that I think is important.
In between (and after) our girls’ events, we had the wonderful opportunity to see other, very amazing twirlers in action. Several of these top twirlers were male. One in particular caught our attention several times. In fact, he caught the eyes of most of the people present. At one point, while he was performing in a duet twirling event with a very talented female twirler, the entire arena stopped to look. Twirlers who were in the practice area (separated from the performance floor by a curtain), judges who were judging other events but were between performances, and all performers (not participating in an event at that moment) and observers stopped what they were doing for the full two to three minutes to watch this pair. Their routine was breathtaking.
Later, we got to see this same male twirler perform a solo routine and he was just as incredible. The talent this young man has was palpable. The next day, I read a Facebook post by a friend and fellow twirling mom who mentioned what a great time the girls had and that they were excited to see Jonathan Burkin (who had been on America’s Got Talent) twirl.
Instantly, Jim and I both knew that this must be the young man we had watched with such wonder. I Googled him just to be sure. Yep, it was him. But what I saw regarding this extraordinary young man got me on my soapbox again.
On America’s Got Talent (as shown in the clip above) he and his mom both talked about how hard it was for him growing up as a twirler. Other kids teased him relentlessly and called him names. Other people (presumably adults) said unpleasant things as he twirled in parades. Thankfully, this young man had a family who supported him wholeheartedly, who loved him no matter what others thought.
Of course, the major issue he faced was that people view baton twirling as “girlie” and therefore can’t get behind a boy enjoying it. And worse than that, they have to demean him and try to interfere with his enjoyment of his chosen sport. It makes me so sad and so angry that we can’t just support each other in our interests. Why do we have to pass judgment and criticize?
Since both of our kids are girls, we haven’t run into this prejudice. But we have encountered another one regarding twirling: Many people don’t view twirling as a sport. Emerald and I have talked with several people who have asked her about her activities and when she mentions twirling with a huge smile on her face, they immediately follow up with “Do you play any sports?” I know they mean soccer or field hockey or the like. But, heeelllloooo! She just told you she loves twirling!! So far it hasn’t bothered Emerald, but after hearing about the treatment Jonathan Burkin received from his peers, I wonder if this is part of the problem, as well.
I’ve watched enough twirling, picked up the baton enough times myself, and walked alongside enough parades to know that this is most definitely a sport. If you don’t agree, do me a favor for just a few minutes. Pick up a baton, or even a stick. Move it around in your fingers (or twirl it if you know how). Now without stopping, toss it up in the air. Catch it and keep twirling. Pass it between your legs. Keep twirling. Roll it over your back. Toss it under your leg. Catch it. Keep twirling and kick your leg backward. Now toss the baton/stick in the air and while it’s up there, spin in a full circle and catch the baton/stick before it hits the ground. Don’t stop; keep twirling. Now roll it over your elbow and spring it up in the air. Catch it. Keep going for a total of two minutes. Take a bow. How do you feel? Are you winded?
If you didn’t try that, how about twirling your baton/stick and marching (with your knees high) the entire length of the main street in your town? Do you think you’d be winded then? I hope this has convinced you that twirling is at least an athletic event. Now let me address other things that make a sport a sport. My girls are part of a team. They have learned that their team depends on them to show up, to have all their equipment with them, to know their routines, and to give it their all, for the good of the whole group. They have learned to support each other, no matter whether a teammate is having a good performance day or a bad one. They’ve learned to say “Good job” whether their fellow twirler won first place or last and whether or not their teammate dropped the baton 20 times or none. They are performing and competing in athletic events and they are learning the lessons that I hope all kids learn from their sports. On top of that, they are having fun. Who could ask for more than that from any sport?
I look forward to a day on which we can support our fellow human beings in being themselves and in doing whatever sport or activity they enjoy. I look forward to the day that we can stop trying to make others feel bad about what they like to do and as Jonathan Burkin said about the judges on America’s Got Talent:
“I hope they realize how much dedication it takes to be good at anything.”
[Stepping down off my soapbox again now.]