UHS Baton Twirling program makes history

Photo Courtesy UHS Baton Twirling Program
The Union High School Senior Competition Team, Anastasia Ristova, Maria Asitimbay, Alyssa Squillante, Daniela Arrieta and Christiana Selby, stands with its Junior Competition Team, Lakeisha Bataille, Sierra Foster, Jenmaris Cruz, Carolina Pianim, Joseline Medina and Asya Harris. The UHS twirling team attended an open United States Twirling Association competition, where they won first place as a senior twirling team.

UNION, NJ — The Union High School Baton Twirling program continues to set records for its school and for the sport, and now they’ve made UHS history.
For the first time in the high school’s history, two twirlers represented UHS by participating in the Congressional National Cup, in Maryland on March 18.

Tiahna Selby, former UHS twirler and current Rutgers’ feature twirler, along with her sister, Christiana Selby, current UHS twirler, both won second place in a one-baton duet. Tiahna Selby placed third in “X-Strut” and won the championship’s one-baton category, where she advanced on to the winner’s twirl-off. Christiana Selby placed fourth in her one-baton solo performance.

In addition, the UHS twirling team attended an open United States Twirling Association competition, where they won first place as a senior twirling team.
According to UHS teacher and twirling team coach, Nicole Placca, baton twirling, a once traditional and common sport, is now rarely seen at sporting events. UHS is the only school in the county and one of only eight schools in the state that still has a full baton twirling program.

In the past two years, twirlers from UHS have been quickly advancing and have made a name for themselves in local, national and worldwide competitions. For many of these events, it is the first time a UHS student has attended as a competitor.

For the first time in the history of the program, UHS students are participating in competitions such as the National Baton Association and the USTA.
Placca attributes some of the success of the UHS twirling team to setting a positive tone from the get-go.

“The most important thing is setting the tone right off the bat,” Placca told LocalSource in a March 22 email. “As the coach and being the only one running this program, I constantly drill and model the behavior that is acceptable on the team. Only positivity and working hard to perfect their twirling for the duration of practice is acceptable. I’ve had to cut several girls from the team over the years due to negative behavior and their unwillingness to cooperate or keep up with the team’s improvement. The older members of the team also set the tone because they set the bar and want to keep it there.”

According to Placca, despite the odds being stacked against the team, they have emerged triumphant through hard work and sheer determination.

“We already have the odds against us because I have to build the program from the bottom up every year,” Placca said. “It takes years to truly master the fundamentals of twirling and we are cramming it into a few short months in preparation for performances. The unity of the team and the strong work ethic and determination of the twirlers makes the program. It has been a pleasure to watch the quick progression and improvement of even the newest twirlers. I can thank the girls for pushing each other to keep up.”

Placca said that novice twirlers must quickly learn how to become performers in the few short months leading up to their appearances at football games.

“During this season, twirlers are picked to be on the competitive team,” Placca said. “Given the newness of the team and the short amount of time the girls have been twirling, their participation and difficulty level in competitions against more experienced twirlers, who are trained dancers from well-known, private organizations, is a triumph in and of itself. This speaks volumes of the training they are receiving and of their dedication and persistence in the sport.”

Training for new members begins around May, according to Placca, and new team members are immediately taught how to perform a “thumb toss,” a move which Placca describes as the gateway to all difficult moves, including gymnastics, spins and dance moves, and underneath tosses that come clos
e to the height of a large gym ceiling.
“Practices are very rigorous, as new twirlers not only have to learn the basics but have to learn how to dance while incorporating baton movements and learning how to perform,” Placca said. “It is an unnatural progression but this gets them ready for competition season that starts a few months after, in January.”

UHS senior and twirling team member Daniela Arrieta told LocalSource that joining the team was one of the best things she has ever done.

“It has not only taught me to do my best and work hard in everything I do, but it has also given me a second family,” Arrieta said in a March 23 email. “Without twirling, I would never have met my teammates who are my best friends. It has given me an amazing coach who has taught me everything I know and helped me build confidence. Twirling has given me many happy memories that I will cherish forever.”

Anastasia Ristova, also a UHS senior and twirling team members, told LocalSource that twirling is a unique sport that has always fascinated her.
“Ever since I was a freshman, I would watch the twirlers at football games and I would be just so fascinated,” Ristova said in a March 23 email. “I finally joined my junior year and my only regret is that I didn’t join sooner. Twirling is now a big part of my life and I’ve formed a bond not only with the girls on the team but with my coach. I consider us a family.”

Although twirling used to be a common sport in school districts, said Placca, that is no longer the case.

“It is very rare to see a baton twirler, let alone an entire program like we have here at UHS,” Placca said. “Twirling now, at least in New Jersey, is solely a competitive sport, so it is an honor that I am able to give free private training to a public high school and expose them to this private sector of twirling where they are competing against trained dancers, bigger, well-known studios, and more experienced athletes.”

The UHS twirling team is now halfway through competition season, and Placca said that the girls will be competing in the state championships in April, another competition for the entire East Coast, and the National Association Championship.

“The team is hoping to continue in their footsteps from last year by again winning a championship title,” Placca said. “They have five more competitions left this season and are hoping to continue making history and raising the bar for the program with each passing year.”