UNION, NJ – There’s a lot more to Union High School’s baton twirling team than what most people see at football games. There are 11 girls on the twirling team, but only five on the competition team.
This past weekend that team won another state championship title at the United States Twirling Association’s event. According to coach Nicole Placca, this is only the second year Union High School has attended the event, and the first time they’ve won. “This is even a bigger victory because we beat a very well-known organization that has dominated twirl and dance for decades.”
The Union High School competitive twirling team also won first place in Senior Twirl Team and Senior Twirl and Dance at the NBTA on March 4, only the second year the team competed at the event.
They also won first place at the New Jersey State Championships.
According to Placca, Union High School is the only school in the county with a twirling program. She said only about ten high schools in New Jersey still have a twirling program. Placca said most of the team’s competitors are private organizations.
The team members, Lakeisha Bataille, Muskan Singh, Shayla Morton, Sierra Foster and Christiana Selby, credit Placca with their success, in twirling and in other areas of their lives.
Senior twirler Bataille, 17, said she was timid when she entered high school. “In my junior year, I found twirling. It has opened doors and taught me to just keep going. I’m so lucky to have a coach who encourages us. Mrs. P. saw more potential in me than I saw in myself. Now I’m a state champ. Twice.”
Singh, 16 and a junior, said she just started twirling this year. “I was never in sports before and never considered myself athletic. Twirling is a dream for me.” She said being part of the team is the best experience she’s ever had. “Twirling is something personal. Grades and college mean a lot to me and I was beginning to get anxious about it. Twirling has helped me let go. When I have a baton in my hand, it unleases my spirit.”
Placca, a Spanish teacher at the high school, said twirling was special to her growing up. “It gave me so much. It gave me confidence. I’m lucky as an adult to still be involved in an activity that has given me so much.”
Competitive twirler Morton, 16, said twirling has brought her friendships. “The friendships you get here are genuine – we’ve bonded. It’s special.” Morton, a junior, said she never thought she’d be a champ. “Then Mrs. P. said, ‘you guys are going to be champions’ and we actually started winning. She was right.”
Sixteen-year old Foster began twirling in 7th grade. “When I first started, the older girls showed me how. They taught me patience.” She said she can be herself with her team. “No one judges me. When I first realized that we had to perform in front of people, I was afraid. I didn’t even like to talk in front of people. Twirling has taught me that I’m beautiful and have no need to hide who I am.”
“This team has blown me away,” said Placca. “Four of the five girls are new to the competition team. They motivate me. They have given me more than I could hope for as a coach. It’s special to see them shining.”
Selby, 18, said twirling has played a huge role in her life since she began four years ago. “I love being a part of a unique sport and having performance opportunities to show my love for the sport. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to be on this team and make lifelong friends who share my passion for the sport.”
“My coach has run such a rewarding program that taught me to feel confident and proud performing the sport I love,” continued Selby.
Placca said Selby, a senior, is the first twirler from Union High School to win a scholarship in twirl from the NJTA. She will be attending Rutgers New Brunswick and will be one of their feature baton twirlers.