The Kennebunk Twirlers in 1951. From left, are Naomi Nunan, Adrienne Cluff, Estelle Plante, Susan Wildes, Berl Joy and Nellie Hanscom. COURTESY PHOTO/Susan Falcone-Plass

KENNEBUNK — Past and current Kennebunk Twirlers will perform together at the their 80th anniversary celebration on Oct. 12. The event has many reflecting on how much the sport has changed throughout the years.

During Kennebunk High School’s homecoming football game, the group will perform the original school song routine on at halftime, said Susan Falcone-Plass, director and head coach of the Kennebunk Twirlers.

A celebration will follow the performance, Falcone-Plass said, and she hopes that friends and family of the twirlers will attend, too.

She said that even though the Kennebunk Twirlers remain a dedicated team, so much about them has changed, from the uniforms to the hairstyles to the routines.

“It’s a little more relaxed,” Falcone-Plass said. “We’re doing a lot more competitions now. When we used to compete, it was a little more military style. We have more dance and gymnastics components that weren’t there before.”

A former twirler, Myra Kimball-Sparkowich, said that she graduated Kennebunk High School in 1954 and even won a baton twirling and tap-dancing award while in the Air Force before going back to coach in Kennebunk.

“I used to be able to roll [the baton] around my waist,” she said. “It’s something you have in your blood, and it doesn’t get out.”

Kimball-Sparkowich coached one of Falcone Plass’s coach, Crickette Merrill, who graduated in 1971.

“It’s so neat to see how we have handed the baton down through the generations!” Falcone-Plass said in an email.

Graduating high school in 1986, Falcone Plass said that she knew she wanted to twirl as early as age 3 or 4 and impatiently waited to become old enough to do so.

“My cousin gave me my first baton and I watched her,” she said. “She had friends who twirled, and I was just mesmerized by it. I was in dance and gymnastics briefly, but I was really holding out for fourth grade so I could twirl.”

Nowadays, Falcone-Plass said she has had students who are 2 years old, but she said that is rare, as hand-eye coordination and movement abilities take a little time to develop.

She added that one of the most important aspects of the sport that hasn’t changed in 80 years would be the camaraderie and connections the girls make with one another.

“We really are family and the girls really stay connected, and we try to do get-togethers in the summer before they go away to college,” she said. “A lot of girls this generation have a hard time staying connected. They’re too involved in their phones and social media. That’s one thing I think is positive — they communicate face-to-face.”

While the majority of twirlers are girls, Falcone-Plass said that boys do get involved. A male coach also comes up in the summer to help out.

“Well, I’ve had some boys before and I thought about having an all-boys class,” Falcone-Plass said. “I have a lot of brothers who love to twirl with this baton. I think it’s really important for the girls to have experience with male coaches because I think it brings something different to the table. It’s just a different perspective. Men have more upper body strength so they can easily twirl two to three batons. I don’t want to sound sexist, but it’s true.”

She added, “Baton really started in Europe, and it was usually men because the batons were heavy. The batons got thinner and lighter once they came to the United States, so it became for girls.”

The twirlers also compete much more often now than in the past, when they twirled mostly with the KHS’s marching band, Falcone-Plass said. They now get invited to a variety of events.

“We participate in all the parades and we sometimes do halftime events at the high school level,” she said. “My kids have also performed in Florida. We’re invited every year for the Kennebunk Tree Lighting.”

Fire baton twirling has also improved with regards to safety, Falcone-Plass added. Usually, the twirlers wait until they are in high school to begin working with fire.

“We have a encapsulated bag and it goes out right away,” she said. “We used to have to stomp the batons out in the sand.”

Practices for the performance at homecoming will begin on Sept. 17 in Kennebunk, Falcone-Plass said. Alumni who might live too far away to attend each practice can also work on the routine remotely.

Twirlers who want to participate can contact Falcone-Plass at [email protected] or 423-3019 for locations and times.

Anyone who would like to purchase an anniversary T-shirt should contact Falcone Plass by Sept. 26.

— Staff Writer Catherine Bart can be reached at [email protected]or 780-9029.

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