The Thomson area has more than its fair share of talented twirlers thanks to the efforts of one enthusiastic volunteer who has passed on a love of the sport to generations of girls.
Jane Chalker sets the example for one of her teams during half time of the Bucs game against Bulloch.
Photo by Karen Hawes/Special
Jane Chalker, a former Thomson High baton twirler, offers twirling lessons all day Wednesdays at Briarwood Academy. Girls from kindergarten to 12th grade enjoy polishing their twirling skills under the direction of "Miss Jane."
"It has just been unbelievable," said Briarwood Headmaster John Hammond about the level of participation. The school has a total enrollment of 350, and about 90 girls choose to participate in the program.
"We feel the program is extremely important not only from the skills students gain from twirling, but from the self confidence they develop performing in front of people," he said.
Senior Alli Wood agrees.
"I like to perform in front of people," said the co-captain of the Buccanettes twirling squad which performs at halftime during football and basketball games.
The Briarwood senior, who has been developing twirling skills since kindergarten under the direction of Mrs. Chalker, said "She's like my mom, too. She gives me more than twirling help."
Mrs. Chalker enjoys mentoring the students with more than just technical advice, boosting their confidence and skills in her soft, southern lilt.
She began the baton program the second year Briarwood was open. She retired from the school as a paraprofessional, but was encouraged to return 13 years ago to continue the twirling program.
Twirling seems to be in her blood.
A cheerleader in high school, Mrs. Chalker went out for the twirling team "on a dare." She remembers thinking, "The worst I can do is not get it."
She made the team, and has been practicing and teaching the skill ever since.
During college, she was as a Georgette at the University of Georgia, which was a twirler who also had other duties.
"We twirled big flags, little flags, and other props," Ms. Chalker remembers. At UGA these days, separate squads perform flag and baton twirling and dance routines, but when she was there, "We did it all."
She passed along her love of the sport to a host of children in summer camps as well as to her daughters, Traci Conner, who helps with the Briarwood program, and Traylee Chalker, a Briarwood senior who is co-captain for the Bucanettes.
The sport has many benefits, Mrs. Chalker believes.
Twirling helps girls maintain flexibility and good physical conditioning while improving coordination and rhythm. Twirlers also develop a strong team work ethic, she noted.
The skills aren't free, however.
"You have to practice," she said.