Catoctin-Aires majorettes club has a long history in northern Frederick County
Participation in twirling has dwindled, but participants and their parents enjoy the family-oriented group
When Donna Landsperger was 16, in 1976, she took over as director for the Catoctin-Aires majorettes organization. Back then, it was not uncommon for areas to have several majorette groups, which could boast more than 100 members apiece, she said.
Over the past 35 years, the popularity of the groups has diminished, largely due to more sports opportunities being available to girls, she added. And for groups that still exist, like the Catoctin-Aires, "membership has dwindled."
Still, the baton twirling club has about 30 members and a strong system of volunteers. Participants come from throughout Frederick County as well as from bordering counties in Maryland and Pennsylvania. They march in area parades and some compete in national competitions.
"We're not really an organization where you drop your kid off at the door and pick them up in an hour," Landsperger said. The group "relies on parent volunteerism." Moms, dads and grandparents help book practice areas, like schools gyms, and participate in the fundraisers that keep the independently-funded club running. There is no fee for participation in the group, though parents must pay for uniforms, trophies and a small amount of the club's necessary insurance policy.
There are four volunteer instructors aside from Landsperger, and "with the exception of one, we've grown up in this program," she said.
She added that she's stuck with the organization all this time because of the children. She likes watching them learn life skills like teamwork and sportsmanship and make friends during the years they're involved in the club. They "become people," she said.
"We're teaching more than how to twirl that silver stick," she added. Parents of children in the group agree.
"She's changed so much since she's been in this class," said Misty Fletcher of her 7-year-old daughter, who was painfully shy before getting involved with twirling four years ago.
Fletcher's 11-year-old, Emily, said she enjoys getting trophies and twirling in competitions and parades, but she also likes that she's made new friends through the club.
"There's a lot of camaraderie and friendship," said parent volunteer Tasha Eiker, of Thurmont. This season is her 12-year-old daughter's sixth with the group.
"A great big part of it is the social aspect," said Sherrill Lane, a mother from Westminster who has two daughters in the organization.
"It's a year-round sport, there's very little time off," she said.
"What I like about the group is that a lot of friends that I know go there," said 10-year-old Abbie Lane. "It's a lot of fun twirling together with them," she added.
"You get a lot of experiences," Abbie said, listing traveling and staying in hotels for far away competitions or parades as examples.
"Some people think that baton's just little, but it's really not," she said. She thinks the tricks, choreography and other elements of the sport are nothing to scoff at.
"It gives them a sense of accomplishment," said Tammy Lescalleet, mother of a 12-year-old daughter who has been twirling for five years.
"I feel that if [Landsperger] wasn't the way she is then we wouldn't be where we're at now," she added, referencing the success of some members of the group at regional and national competitions.
Landsperger said about 25 hours of her week are dedicated to the Catoctin-Aires.
"My situation is such that I can do this as a glorified hobby, I guess you could call it," she said. She has no plans of ending her work with the organization, which Eiker said is "her life."
The Catoctin-Aires will host a series of free beginners' classes from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. March 8, 15 and 22, at Emmitsburg Elementary School, located at 300 S. Seton Ave., Emmitsburg. The class is for beginners, ages 5 and up, and is meant to gauge their interest in twirling. Materials will be provided. Call 301-845-0074 for more information.