When I was a senior in high school, I decided to try out for twirler. I had been a devoted band member, starting out with a cornet in 5th grade and eventually graduating to French horn. I definitely wanted to play French horn in concert band, but it was my senior year and I thought it might be fun to be one of the girls wielding a baton during marching season. The problem was that I had no clue how to twirl. I had been a cheerleader for three years prior to this and didn’t have any twirling experience. Zero. But thanks to the aid of a seasoned twirler, Debby Russell, who took me under her wing and worked me to death for 3 weeks, I somehow managed to win a spot.
That was a very fun year with the band and my fellow twirlers. Our band was excellent and we were all proud to be involved with Tommy Neugent as our guide. He was a tough cookie when it came to everything related to band and I still have anxiety dreams with him at the center. It was not uncommon for him to yell at the top of his lungs and turn bright red just because someone was not kicking high enough on a turn during marching season. However, I must say that Mr. Neugent was my first real brush with excellence. He expected a lot, but he gave a lot in return and the results were undeniable. We were a Sweepstakes band for two years while I was in high school with all 1’s in marching and in concert band. That’s tough to beat.
Interestingly, I also had a taskmaster in the twirling realm. Our head twirler, Debra McGuire, was driven to be the best twirler she could be and she expected us to follow suit. I somehow was invited after marching season to join a twirling trio with her and another twirler, Elaine Brooks, and I still can remember parts of that routine that we must have practiced a 1000 times before heading to contest. We received all 1’s at our first contest, moved to the next where we also received all 1’s, and then were told we had qualified to compete at state.
We travelled to Austin in early June of 1971 for the big competition and, unfortunately, I promptly lost one of my contacts in the swimming pool at the motel where we were staying. That didn’t bode well since I was (am) severely near-sighted and hadn’t brought my glasses. Still, later that day, we got up to do our routine in front of the judges (Debra basically lead me to the spot where I was supposed to stand) and the second we started, I just clicked into our routine and did what we’d been doing for several months. As it turned out, we received all 1s that day, too, making us an All-State Trio. We were all very proud, and I still am, particularly since I’d barely known how to hold a baton just the year before.
Band was one of the best experiences in high school for me. I learned to appreciate hard work, to love music, and to see how being part of something bigger than myself could bring a great deal of satisfaction. Thomas Neugent was the lynchpin. I am grateful for his passion. He taught me a lot about finding something to love and pursuing it with all my heart.
Debra was impressive, too, I must say. Without her (and Elaine), I wouldn’t have even considered heading off to a twirling contest. I’m very glad I did.
By the way, my baton is leaning against the wall in my closet upstairs in my bedroom. I never know when I might just get the urge to twirl…
Back Row: Jane, Cathy, Elaine and Gail
Second Row: Carla, Len and Cheryl
Front Row: Debra