Whirled Traveler

Baton twirler Sabrina Smith has traveled the world competing and spreading good will

Sabrina Smith is a globe-trotting elite athlete. She’s performed on three continents. She’s competed for international titles, as an individual and on a team.

But don’t look for her sport in the Olympics, at least not yet, because Sabrina is a baton twirler.
“Every time I talk about twirling, people say, ‘Oh my grandma did that,’ or ‘Oh, my aunt did that,’ ‘Oh, my mom did that,’” she said. “But it’s changed a lot and developed into more of a competitive sport, which a lot of people don’t understand.”

When Sabrina flows through her routines, her graceful movements resemble rhythmic gymnastics or modern dance. But at the same time she is throwing and catching up to three batons, the hollow metal rods spinning high above her head.

Her skill and artistry have helped Sabrina, who graduated in May from Holly Springs High School, win a number of significant titles. They include Miss Majorette of the mid-Atlantic, which includes Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland, and Miss Majorette of North Carolina. She was on the Dynamics Dance Twirl Team in 2012, when the Maryland-based group won the Junior Twirl world championship in Neuchatel, Switzerland. In February, she qualified to compete against twirlers from around the globe in the International Cup set for Aug. 10-11 in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

But Sabrina’s most memorable moment wasn’t at a competition. Last September, she was one of 14 elite baton twirlers, aged 16 and 17, to visit Trujillo, Peru, as ambassadors for the annual Festival of Spring. The two-week, all-expenses-paid trip was sponsored by the Lions Club of Trujillo.

“It was my favorite experience for my twirling career, probably for the rest of my life,” she said.
The girls and their bodyguards traveled around Peru for personal appearances, parades, performances, parties and other events. “We were treated like royalty,” she said.

Of all those experiences, she says the children she met at orphanages in Trujillo will stay in her heart. Seeing their smiles and their positive outlook in the face of adversity made Sabrina appreciate her own advantages.  

“It was emotional, but it changed my view on a lot of things in life,” she said. “I am so blessed and grateful that I have twirling in my life, and that I live here and have great things, great parents.”

Her family has supported and encouraged her in her sport. Sabrina’s grandmother, mother, aunt and sister are all former twirlers. Sabrina’s father, LeRoy Smith, who is also Holly Springs’ fire chief, is her biggest fan, she says. And he’s handy to have around when she’s practicing one of her most challenging routines — the flaming batons.

“You have to know what you’re doing with those,” she said. “But my dad has been helping me, because he’s a firefighter. He said, ‘I have to be around when you do that.’ Those honestly scare me a little bit.”

The support of her coach, Lori Cobb, has also been invaluable. When the family moved to Holly Springs from Maryland three years ago, Sabrina couldn’t train with her team any more. Cobb stepped in, traveling to North Carolina from her home in Yorktown, Va., at least once a month for four- or five-hour training sessions. In the summer Cobb holds twirling camps to augment the individual coaching.

This summer, in addition to the twirling camps, the marathon practices, and the national and international competitions, Sabrina has two weeks of band camp at the University of South Carolina, where she’ll begin classes in the fall. Sabrina admits that all that practice is sometimes hard to get through, but she tries to focus on what’s ahead for her.

“It’s the will to twirl in college, because that’s the most fun,” she said. “I have four years to twirl on the field.”

She will perform with two other featured twirlers and the “Mighty Sound of the Southeast” USC marching band. The audition-only spot comes with scholarships to defray the out-of-state tuition.

Sabrina looks forward to the camaraderie of twirling on a team, but she’s also excited to perform with the renowned band. Because of her competition schedule, she missed the chance to twirl for her high school. For each college football game, the band has to learn new songs and formations, so the twirlers have to learn new routines as well.

“I have to do something different for every game,” she said. “You have the same fans, the same student section, so we have to change it up.”

Sabrina says she will continue competing in twirling events throughout her college career. After that, she’s not sure. She wants to be a pediatrician, but said, “Coaching a few little twirlers would be fun as a hobby.”

Whatever her long-term plans, Sabrina clearly enjoys the sport and where it has taken her.    
“It’s a cool sport,” she said. “It’s dance, gymnastics, a combined sport. I think it should be known to the world.”

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