“Thank goodness for children,” my wife said to me as we drove down I-70 headed for the Colorado-Kansas border.
Another family adventure was upon us and the car was packed full of pillows, favorite blankets, coloring books, and snacks. We were headed to Colby, Kansas—a place where we would have stopped only for gas if it wasn’t for our kids…and a baton twirling competition.
You’ve heard of soccer moms. I’m a baton-twirling dad. My 10-year-old daughter, Jaylyn, has been twirling for half of her life. My youngest, Jolene, was also five when she picked up the sport almost three years ago. Jolene couldn’t wait to start twirling, often saying, “Daddy, I want to win trophies just like sissy.”
You could say that the girls have baton twirling in their blood. My mother-in-law, “Gaga” as my girls call her, was a champion baton twirler from El Paso, Texas. In the early ’70s, she was awarded a full ride scholarship to be the feature baton twirler with the marching band at the University of Northern Colorado. Today, Gaga continues to help coach and inspire the girls.
Back here in Colby, we wake up before the sun. My wife starts the process of getting the girls into their beautiful costumes and their hair braided. I pack the cooler with lunch and snacks, and make sure the extra battery pack is charged and my phone is ready with lots of memory to handle the dozens of videos I’m about to take. After a quick breakfast, it’s off to the Colby Community Building for a long day of twirling.
I am my girls’ number one fan, regardless of how well they do. I stand in awe as my two babies gracefully handle the pressure of competing in a strange city against other kids who are sometimes two years older than they are. After several seasons of competition, we have the routine down. I am the mule, hauling all the gear. I have their wardrobe bag, cooler, backpack, makeup bag, and, most importantly, the baton bag.
But I’ve also gotten the chance to see what performing is like from the girls’ perspective. In February 2017, my girls picked me to perform with them in the annual sweetheart competition. Gaga came up with the choreography and the song, and my wife thought it would be extra special for me to wear a heart costume she found on the internet.
When the performance started, I was nervous—more nervous than my girls. At one point in the routine, I had to toss the baton up in the air, spin around, and catch it. I worked on that move for weeks and weeks and wanted to nail it, but my toss was terrible and I dropped the baton. I was disappointed, but it made me realize how physically demanding baton twirling is. You work your arms, your abs, your legs, and you need sharp hand-eye coordination. It’s also more dangerous than I imagined!
Here in Colby, my wife and I watch wide-eyed as Jaylyn tosses her baton high in the air. She is trying a two-spin horizontal for the first time in competition. She caught it! Even so, she only came in fifth place. It doesn’t matter to us. She’s just thrilled she caught her horizontal. Both girls will bring home several trophies from this trip.
Jaylyn also learned a valuable lesson today—one of taking risks. Over the years, my girls have learned life skills that have nothing to do with twirling a baton. They understand commitment, dedication, and teamwork—skills that carry over to school and will serve them well over their lifetime. As for me, I have a new-found respect for the strength, skill, and coordination it takes to twirl a baton. I’ve also become a better father as I learn how to guide my girls through the ups and downs of athletic competitions. We’re still having fun. All of us. Thank goodness for children.