Saturday, December 26, 2015

Catching up with the Cincinnati Twirlers

University of Cincinnati baton twirlers Suzy Carter (left) and Krissie Livesay (right) pose before their routine during November's Barclays Center Classic. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

 BY RAY FLORIANI

Brooklyn, NY -­ They grace the gridiron on those fall afternoons and evenings. They are integral parts of the band and halftime entertainment. Theirs is a skill, despite the national competition, still remains somewhat regional in scope today. The baton twirlers, certainly appreciated but often not fully understood by the public, are a group certain to impress that same public with their outstanding routines­ based on hours of work and technique.

Twirling seems to be bigger among southern schools. In other regions, colleges have twirlers in their bands, but some states find the numbers and participation down at the high school level, not for lack of effort, as the twirling community is passionate and constantly working to promote the sport.

In recent years, we have witnessed twirlers showing up regularly on the hardwood, not just at their home facilities, but locales as Madison Square Garden. The venerable ‘world’s most famous arena’ has been the site for performers from schools as Hofstra, Villanova, (a school with a co­-ed squad) Massachusetts, South Florida, and Baylor.

The Barclays Center Classic, contested just after Thanksgiving, saw two twirlers from the University of Cincinnati. The Bearcats impressed, winning the two-day event. Their twirlers also caught the attention of those attending the tournament.

Twirlers will perform during halftime at basketball games. The two representing Cincinnati chose to perform during timeouts. Their routines naturally were shorter, but more frequent, to the delight of an adoring crowd.

We caught up with the Cincinnati twirlers at halftime of the Cincinnati­-George Washington final at Barclays and asked a few questions. Both sophomores, Suzy Carter and Krissie Livesay hail from Cincinnati, the former a nursing major while the latter is studying philosophy. A few general questions were asked of the young ladies.

Ray Floriani: When did you begin twirling?

Suzy Carter: At age seven. I have been twirling four years in high school and now college. I started competing (in twirling competitions) around seven or eight and now compete nationally.

Krissie Livesay: I started at age 11. It is relatively late to start, but I began competing almost immediately. I twirled four years in high school and am now in my second year at Cincinnati.

RF: Describe the training or workout regimen.

SC: We practice 4-5 days a week, (at Cincinnati) and each workout is three hours in length. Besides that is personal training, especially when school is not in session.

KL: Suzy uses two or three batons in her routine. I use one baton and my training is more geared toward performing in that. Included are the spins and back and neck routines.

RF: What is the advice for middle or high school students aspiring to twirl in college?

SC: Keep practicing and keep motivated. A lot of girls start out excited, but can soon lose their motivation. Compete in the various competitions and get yourself a good coach. I can’t say enough about my coach and the all important support system provided by my family. That is essential.

KL: Suzy pretty much summed it up. Practice a lot, especially at those younger ages. College cheering is more gymnastically oriented, twirling is closer to dance, so a dance background would be good. The rewards of getting to college are great. You meet very nice people and the national or international experience in competition is great. Getting to twirl in college makes that work all worthwhile.

Spring will bring both Suzy and Krissie to national competition at Disney World in Florida. The events will see them compete in both team and individual competitions. Besides Bearcat football and now basketball, they have been busy on Sundays. The Cincinnati Bengals invited them to twirl at home games, and the experience has been memorable.

“We love twirling at the Bengals games,” Suzy said. “They (the crowd) love us, and we really work well with the Ben­-Gals (the team cheerleaders). They love us as well. It has just been wonderful.”

Krissie reiterated her teammate's thoughts, adding the colder days of November have not deterred either’s enthusiasm for performing in front of a packed house. “It’s cold and sometimes on that field we need an extra pair of tights to wear to keep the legs warm,” she said. “It has been great, especially with the season the team is having.”

Bands, cheerleaders, and dance teams are the popular spirit groups in the college game. Twirlers are making inroads, though, a very welcome and talented addition indeed.

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