CRANFORD, NJ — The batons have continued twirling for Union High School coach Nicole Marie Placca, who also teaches the art of baton twirling — a sport that may seem almost extinct — at Diamond Gymnastics Academy in Cranford. Bringing the intricate art to the youngsters of Cranford, Placca said her goal is to show young children and teens that they can be an athlete.
Placca, who hails from Kenilworth, became acquainted with baton twirling in her youth and has been Union High School’s baton-twirling team’s coach since 2011.
“Diamond Gymnastics is celebrating their 35th year and are family owned and operated,” Placca said on Friday, Jan. 7. “Diamond Gymnastics has offered a baton twirling and dance program since 2003, when the then well-known baton studio, Patti’s Dolls of Union, closed its doors after decades of being the only private twirling studio in Union County. I have run this program with Diamond Gymnastics Academy since 2018. Recently, Sunburst Gymnastics in Union has allowed me aboard to offer an activity that differs from the common youth programs. I am also proud to be offering more classes in Union County that will be coming up in the spring, summer and fall, along with a summer clinic.
“My goal is to show individuals of all ability levels that they can be an athlete,” she continued. “There is too much pressure on children to feel like they have to ‘fit in’ with certain characteristics, in order to be a part of a sport or a team. I run my program on the motto that success is individual and that it means something different for everyone. For some children, just having the courage to attend class and learn something new is a major win. The goal is to allow everyone the ability to learn a skill and be part of a team.”
According to Placca, Diamondettes Baton Twirl & Dance Group offers a variety of competitive and noncompetitive class options, which are designed to fit the student and not the other way around — unlike many performance teams, which require the participants to meet a certain skill level. No experience is necessary. The goal is to build confidence and motivation, and produce success by what that means to the individual, based on their needs and abilities.
The winter season began on Saturday, Jan. 8, and competition season is fast approaching for the Diamondettes. Placca, who has consistently produced award-winning students and currently has seven state championships, detailed their plans to prepare for the season and how she feels about having such accolades attached to her name.
“Our competition team has been choreographing since late summer, and, as we approach the winter season, we will continue refining their skills,” Placca said. “I also have many students from my summer and fall sessions that were not interested in competition but now have elected to do so, after gaining confidence in the sport.
“I run one of the few public high school baton-twirling teams left in New Jersey, and this is the team that got these accolades,” she continued. “Seeing high school students who have never been athletes transform into confident performers of such a difficult skill made me realize that, if older students can achieve such amazing goals in a short time, then younger students can soar with many years ahead to grow. I watched quiet and shy students who lacked confidence truly blossom, and, as an educator, I want to see younger students learn their self-worth as early as possible. I have seen firsthand what twirling has given all of my students who, respectively, didn’t fit the criteria to participate in other activities that they wanted to. They felt as though they could never be a part of something, and they set amazing records for their school.”
Placa said the beauty of baton twirling is that it fits the individual and not the other way around, which is how many performance-based teams work. Because of this, she said baton twirling is perfect for individuals with no prior experience, while it complements the skills of those who have done dance, gymnastics, cheer., etc.
Owner of Sunburst Gymnastics Mike Onsuka spoke highly of Placca as an instructor and talked about how baton twirling is well suited to the gym’s other offerings.
“Baton twirling fits in well with our gymnastics and cheerleading programs,” Onsuka said on Tuesday, Jan. 11. “The more programs we offer, the more we can get kids active and let them explore their interests. At Sunburst, we work hard to give the students a positive experience in these sports and teach them the skills that they can also take with them outside the gym. This is something we are passionate about and enjoy doing.”
Photos Courtesy of Nicole Marie Placca