Blame it on the Baton: How I Became Involved in Pageants

Blame it on the Baton: How I Became Involved in Pageants

I wanted a baton for Christmas when I was seven years old, and while this story starts back in 2000, my “pageant career” started much later. I have no idea why I put a baton on my Christmas list and my parents don’t remember either. There’s a good chance I saw a twirler on TV or in a parade, but my draw to the sport was strong from the beginning. One clear, tinsel-filled plastic baton with streamers on the end was waiting for me under the tree after rushing down the stairs on Christmas morning.

My brother, Mike, is two years older than me. Growing up, I wanted to do everything he did. If he watched Mighty Ducks, I did too. If he raced trucks in the sandbox, I did too. If he played WWE Smackdown in the family room, I did too. I’m pretty sure my parents enrolled me in baton lessons just so I didn’t use the baton as a weapon during our wrestling matches. 

I tried dance lessons prior, but I wasn’t quite graceful enough and was intrigued by the risk-taking element of baton. I saw it as a way I could break out fast moves and impress people with my skills – or maybe with all of the bruises on my arms and broken blood vessels in my hands.

I started baton lessons that February with Miss Becky of the Arizona Twirling Athletes. If you twirled in Phoenix over the last 45 years, you probably wore the infamous red, white and blue outfit too. After two and a half years of practices, parades and competitions, I was invited to be a part of the Phoenix Superstars and go to my first National Baton Twirling Championship at the University of Norte Dame, also known as America’s Youth on Parade (AYOP).

My first baton picture – 2001. Check out that hair.

As a fundraiser to go to Nationals, twirlers and moms ran the snack bar and sold programs at the Miss Arizona Scholarship Pageant. Miss Becky, also a Local Executive Director with the Miss America Organization, facilitated this opportunity for our team to collect additional money, usually used toward our transportation while in South Bend. Prior to this point, I don’t think I had ever seen a pageant outside of the ones held at our baton competitions. We would work our station and as soon as the show started, we found a seat in the back of the auditorium. It only took one night of evening gowns, talent performances, swimsuit strutting, onstage interviews and the crowd roaring loudly for me to realize my dream. 

Competing at AYOP year after year meant that I volunteered at Miss Arizona during both preliminary nights and the final night of competition. I watched in awe as the women floated across the stage, wondering how I could make it up there and ever wear the coveted crown. When Katherine Kennedy Clements was crowned Miss Arizona 2004, I knew that if I worked hard and never gave up on my dream, I could do it too. Katherine won on her seventh and final attempt, and by seeing her persevere, I learned that it takes grit to succeed.

I started to experience face-to-face bullying that fall, which happened to be my transition to middle school. That’s a topic for another post – or probably ten. Every time I was asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?,” my answer was “be Miss Arizona.” I don’t know how many times kids told me it would never happen. My ears were too big, teeth too spaced, limbs too long, liked school too much, didn’t wear the brand name clothes and the list goes on. To them, I was the tall girl with the baton who asked too many questions in class. While I would have liked to “fit in” and eat lunch somewhere other than the student council room, I oddly found peace knowing that it wasn’t in the cards for me then. 

Back in elementary school, a police officer spoke to students at an assembly. As much as I’d like to remember who spoke to us and more of the message, the only recollection I have is four words – dare to be different. Through my years of being bullied and being told by peers that I could never do the one thing I wanted, those words never failed to repeat in my mind. 

The more I learned about what it takes to be Miss Arizona, the more I pursued the goal. I persisted when baton twirling continued to challenge me, as new tricks and routines were constantly added and injuries piled up. Knowing that education was a pillar of the Miss America Organization, I made every effort to learn as much as I could and get A’s in all my classes. I took leadership positions in clubs and volunteered for a variety of causes on campus because Miss Arizona’s serve the community and make a difference in the lives of people who need it most. I watched and rewatched the recorded Miss America pageants on VHS tapes as if I was going to take a quiz on them the next day. Dreaming of being Miss Arizona was my distraction when reality became too tough to face. Most of my hours during the day were spent in pageantland. 

Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, the little sister program to Miss America, began in 2005. Being new to pageants, my parents felt I was too young to participate just a few years later when I reached the age of thirteen, my first year of eligibility. By fourteen though, I must have perfected my sales pitch because that was the year I took my first step on a pageant stage. 

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