ROSELLE — With a flash of light, the silver baton glided around the nape of 16-year-old Olivia Negris’ neck as she spun in circles on the gymnasium floor.
Negris, a junior at Wheaton Warrenville South High School, is a member of the Silver Knights baton twirling team based in Roselle. The team held a final six-hour practice March 3 at Margaret Mead Junior High School in Elk Grove Village prior to the annual Elmhurst St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Baton twirling has its roots in the long staffs used by college-level drum majors who would spin the staffs during on-field performances to add some extra flair to the show, Negris said. Now, though, the sport is dominated by females. It combines dance, gymnastics and the baton.
“There are a few teams that have boys on them, but not too many participate,” said team member Laura Zeno, 16, a junior at Wheaton North High School.
Most people are familiar with the twirling they see during parades, such as the Elmhurst St. Patrick’s Day Parade. But Negris said the twirling that happens in a parade is barely a glimpse of what the sport it about.
Twirling is not just spinning and throwing a baton in the air; there are choreographed dance steps and aspects of pageantry involved, she said. Sometimes, flaming batons are added to increase the drama but only when the proper space is available, Negris said.
During competitions, there are individual athletic performances with the baton that highlights skills. These include a routine called “X-strut” where the baton never leaves the hand and a “modeling” routine where the girls are judged on poise and an interview session.
“That’s a routine that really helps you learn how to appear in public and talk properly to adults,” Zeno said.
Nine-year-old Lili Bruenig of Glen Ellyn said the “modeling” portion teaches girls to not use expressions like “umm” and “uhh” during the interview portion.
“You have to be clear when you talk,” she said.
Bruenig joined the Knights two years ago after seeing a twirling performance. Her mother brought her to an open clinic sponsored by the Knights to give twirling a try and she was immediately hooked.
“It’s a unique sport that not a lot of people know about,” Bruenig said. “I like that people come up to me the day after seeing me twirl and ask me about it. It looks really easy until you try it."
Zeno and Negris joined the team 11 and 12 years ago, respectively. Both girls got their start after taking twirling classes through the Wheaton Park District.
When not twirling with the Silver Knights, Breunig performs her twirling routines in area variety shows, while Negris and Zeno both twirl with their schools’ marching bands. Although the two girls attend rival high schools, they created twirling routines together to perform during half-time of school basketball games. Both said they hope to continue twirling at college and then possibly serve as a coach to future twirlers.
In addition to their team duties, each of the girls acts as an ambassador for their sport, talking with other girls about twirling.
“There are only about four teams in the Chicagoland area, … and we hope that people who may be interested in learning look for one,” Negris said.
In addition to the Elmhurst parade, the Silver Knights perform in the Wheaton Independence Day parade and various competitions. During the last week of February, the team played host at a competition in Bartlett.
The Knights provided snacks for the other teams and assembled the trophies for the various competitions. Some of the Knights assisted judges in the scoring, while others, including Bruenig, competed.
“I had some pretty good scores,” she said proudly.
For more information about the Silver Knights, visit the group's website at http://silverknightsbatoncorps.org/.