The scuffing of basketball sneakers trailed off of the court and into the bleachers after the second quarter had ended. The crowd was settling down after the Williamsville North Spartans created a 17 point lead that was hard for the Clarence Bulldogs to keep up with. The energy was high and the timing was right. That’s when Alexa Tamburlin took to center court.
Flashing a pearly white smile that could be seen from the stratosphere, the 15 year-old sophomore student patiently awaited her cue. When the music kicked in, so did Alexa, turning gracefully with precision and juggling multiple batons in the air. She paraded around the floor in synchronization with the drums of a Bruno Mars beat. The crowd shrieked louder with each elbow pop, aerial, and toss of the baton.
It’s the excitement surrounding the sport that keeps Alexa agile and ready, determined and focused. A collegiate feature twirler she will be, or so that’s the goal, according to the sophomore. “Generally, you get a scholarship to be a feature twirler. That’s what I plan on doing. After that, being a coach and travelling. My coach travels across the world,” Alexa revealed with illuminated eyes.
It takes great discipline for a child to stick with a sport into their adolescent years. It’s easier to do when you have a parent that grew into the same passion. Jessica Tamburlin, Alexa’s mom, began twirling in the Ambassadors Twirling Corp of Williamsville when she was five years old. She continued to twirl baton up until the year she wed.
Jessica eventually took over the Ambassadors Twirling Corp and competed in Nationals every year at Notre Dame University. Alexa was only four years old the first time she travelled with her mom to compete at Nationals. “It was so fun to see her on the floor where I competed,” Jessica said.
Baton twirling isn’t always thought of as a competitive sport. Twirlers are judged based on specific criteria for athleticism and difficulty of tricks in categories like 2-baton, x-strut, and rhythmic. There are also time guidelines that govern routines, according to Jessica and Alexa, who travel to campuses like ECC to practice in gyms with high ceilings.
Perceptions can be deceiving, especially here in Western New York. Although baton twirling is considered a popular Southern specialty, Williamsville South and East both have girls who perform, and Grand Island High School has a team that twirls, too, according to the mom and daughter team.
“It’s the best kept secret around,” Alexa’s coach, Kelli Russell said. According to Russell, men mostly twirled in the ‘40s. When more women began picking it up, baton twirling evolved into what many consider a “majorettes in a parade” stereotype today, but it is so much more than that.
“The [sport] started with Somalian knife twirlers. They did a lot of spinning, and America seemed to really grab onto that idea. Over the years the baton has progressed into what it is now and is really weighted properly so [the performer] can do rolls and make it spin properly.”
Baton twirling is very much an international confection. Twirl Mania is a contest held at Disney World in the Wide World of Sports Complex this year, and Alexa is competing. Several countries participate in the competition.
“It’s amazing how [some teams] will have camps and clinics, and a lot of US coaches go. You can really pick out how the French twirlers are much more sharp, and…precise, and flamboyant….but the Japanese are very fluid and have an excellent flow and speed,” Russell said. “It’s amazing to see the differences between the countries. They’ve taken the basics and put a spin on them, no pun intended, to make [the sport] their own.”
Finesse comes with time. Alexa has dedicated six to seven days of her week to practicing her routines, most of which are choreographed by the athlete herself. Could we one day see Alexa twirling at the Olympics amongst the ranks of her inspiration Simone Biles?
“We wish!” her mom said with exuberance. If Alexa places in the top three for specific events at Nationals, she will qualify for the Worlds competition, which is held in Norway this year. “Worlds is the closest thing [baton twirling as a sport] will get to the Olympics. Hopefully, though, one day,” Alexa said, twinkling.
Alexa gains new fans at the basketball half time shows every week, but her biggest fan has always been by her side since day one.
“As I’m videoing her, my hand is always shaking because I’m just so nervous for her and she goes out there and does her thing,” her mom beams. “I think I am much more nervous than she is, but I’m really proud of her. I’m just proud of all the work she puts into it.”
The roar of the crowd is what drives the sparkling blonde athlete and her indomitable spirit.
“Usually when I do a bigger trick and catch [the baton] behind my back or under my leg everyone cheers and it makes me more comfortable up there and less nervous because I know everyone’s seeing what I’m doing and enjoying it,” she said. “I love when my friends are there especially because they’re all like ‘Yeah Alexa!’ and it just boosts my spirit and confidence out on the floor.”
At the time this article was written, Alexa was en route to Twirl Mania in Florida. Let’s wish her luck on her journey!
Leave a Reply