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  • Everyone has an opinion about the girls who are cheerleaders in high school. Hey, they’re athletes just like the basketball players. Are you kidding? They’re dancers not athletes! They’re beautiful. No, they’re just trashy. Likely as not, this cheerleader controversy will never be solved to the satisfaction of everyone. It remains one of life’s most perplexing conundrums.

    But what about those other constantly- smiling goddesses of high school and college? The beautiful young women, often dressed for their performances in silver or gold outfits that were made from shiny, metallic fabric, who in perfect rhythm and style fronted the marching band while twirling batons.

    These women - there were no baton wielding guys in my high school or college - are not to be confused with the drum majors. Drum majors are all business. They run the show and they have no time for cart wills, twirling, or other crowd – pleasing tomfoolery such as faux smiles. The majorettes, or twirlers as they were also called, were and continue to be integral to the otherworldly phenomenon known as the halftime show.

    For those unfamiliar with American football, after beating their brains out for two periods, the two teams get to rest in the dressing rooms for about 30-minutes during what’s called halftime. This is when the opposing schools’ marching bands, dressed in often hideous uniforms, march around in choreographed routines to the tunes of popular songs that have been painfully re-arranged to be played in march time.

    One has not truly lived until he’s heard “Stairway to Heaven,” (a marching tribute to getting the Led out), “Cold as Ice” (saluting All American Foreigners) or some other former Top-40 hit performed in march-time by a high school band under Friday night lights. The songs chosen for these “salutes” are vaguely familiar to the listener, but since they are played in a plodding march time by kids with glockenspiels, trombones, flutes, French horns, tubas and clarinets, it’s a challenge to decipher the original tune.

    However, the music is a distant second priority for this halftime show and the games themselves. From South Bend to Tuscaloosa, Redding, Pennsylvania to Redding California, the pomp and pageantry of college and high school football is all about visual and auditory drama of the moment, played out by boys and girls who actually live in your town. These kids are stars – if only for a short time – in their minds and those of their friends and families.

    You can’t get this energy by watching a game on TV and in fact most television broadcasts of these games have given up covering the marching bands at halftime probably because ratings have shown that very few hardcore sports fans care about marching music. Besides, the network would rather air a couple of dozen commercials between 1 or 2 highlights from the first half.

    Every college and high school marching band has an over-the-top announcer who takes the microphone from the regular PA announcer at halftime and in what can only be described as the enthusiasm of someone who has watched too much professional wrestling on TV does his best to get the crowd revved up about the show. “Laaaaaadies and gentlemen, boys and girls be prepared get on down with some toe tappin’ tunes! As the Famed (insert school and mascot) Marching Multitude plays that funky music white boy! They’re saluting what they say is a very popular song stylist…Lady GawGaw!

    Immediately, in time with a speeded up drum beat, the band members are strategically dispatched in double-time to spell out “Lady GaGa” (in cursive, no less) and are stopped at the 50-yard line to face the hometown crowd - eager to hear the big production number. Right on cue, the band breaks into a tune that kind of sounds like the beginning of “Poker Face” and in fit of faux jive talk, Mr. Excitement on the PA screams, “What are YOU looking at, Homes? Mum mum mum meh Poker Face??!!”

    Instead of going nuts, the crowd politely claps, at least those who are not off getting a soft drink and popcorn. A couple of parents lean over to friends and whisper, “who the hell is this Lady Gaw Gaw?”

    The fabulous twirlers, with Houdini-like abilities have scurried in to take their place in front of the band. After tossing their perfectly coifed hair back and employing deftness usually reserved for professional knife-throwers, they then toss their spinning batons breathtakingly high. An audible gasp emanates from the crowd as the 5 spinning batons travel way, way up there, only to return to confidently waiting hands that projected them in the first place.

    Words are inadequate to describe this kind of eye-to-hand coordination and showmanship and the young women who were responsible for it, were treated as movie stars, in every little town. The halftime music ends with a powerful crescendo and culminates with an all-out, blast of a stinger for one last note. The band takes a collective breath and double-times it off the field. The twirlers cock their baton in port position; keep those smiles fixed firmly in place and march off in triumph.

    Because of their abilities to twirl a baton to beat the band while continuing to look gorgeous, these majorettes were adored by all the little girls in my hometown who wanted to be just like them. The more entrepreneurial of these young baton slingers used the summer months to offer twirling lessons and the 6 to 12 year old female demo eagerly signed up for twirling camp. Like clockwork, new twirlers were spawned each summer.

    Unfortunately, everyone grows up, or is supposed to, including twirlers, football heroes and piccolo players. The women who were twirlers in the band had to put aside their batons and hairspray and do something with their lives.

    They became doctors, teachers, scientists, writers, homemakers and moms. I suspect that once these former stars of the stadium became adult women they had to accomplish multiple tasks, all while looking marvelous. No doubt, they were: mothers, spouses, wage-earners, child psychologists, accountants, and homework experts – all at one time. This however, was not a problem for these women. After mastering the skills of marching, acrobatics, smiling, twirling two batons while singing the school song simultaneously, juggling the stuff of life was a piece of cake.

    Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons Offutt Air Force Base
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