Hello Texas Twirl Fans!
Can you believe competition season starts in just one week here in Texas? We know today's spotlight twirlers are doing everything they can to get the most out of their football season during these final weeks. We loved following their Game Day experience on the Instastory Takeover, and we hope you did too!
This week’s Collegiate Twirler Spotlight is the East Texas Baptist University Twirlers!
East Texas Baptist University, also known as ETBU, is located in Marshall, Texas, and is the home of the Tigers! It is also the home of an awesome twirling group known as the ETBU Tiger Twirlers! Led by their coach, Madison Burns, the Tiger Twirlers perform for ETBU events and football games, while also bringing baton twirling to the community. For the 2022-2023 season, the ETBU Twirlers include Jana Higgs (Feature Twirler), Courtney Smith (Head Twirler), Emma Coleman, Stefanie Bellar, Katie King, Kala Oliver, Salina Kilmer, and Taylor Buchanan.
We asked the Tiger Twirlers why they chose to attend ETBU, and the overwhelming reason was because it felt like home. Feature Twirler, Jana, said she “really loved the atmosphere of a smaller school and that is what ETBU felt like when I had my first visit. I also was mainly looking for a great nursing program to attend and ETBU had one of the best facilities and friendliest nursing faculty I had met.” For Stefanie, she also chose ETBU “because of the “home-y” feeling I got when I came to campus the first time, I felt like I belonged here and that this is where God was calling me to.” For Courtney it was also close to home, and she got to attend with her best friend! Emma had the opportunity to attend a twirling camp at ETBU, and knew it was the right choice for her. “I felt like this is where The Lord wanted me to be.”
Additionally, Katie agreed, saying that “ETBU has a great community, grounded in Christian faith. There are so many people here who are excited to grow in their faith, and they are extremely welcoming to anyone who feels the same way.” Kala had a similar experience. “I chose this university because it reminded me of home. I’m from a small town in East Texas, so I love the small atmosphere and family feeling that ETBU has.” Same for Salina, who said, “When I came to visit, I fell in love with the community that I saw here. Everyone is so nice and outgoing.” Finally, Taylor had the same experience, but also loved how beautiful the campus was. “When I visited ETBU last spring on a preview day the atmosphere was so Godly, and the people were so welcoming. The campus is beautiful and close to home which was important to me.”
Earning a spot as a Tiger Twirler requires an important audition process that occurs every year. As Jana told us, “For the ETBU twirling line we do have to re-audition every year. Even the feature twirler and head twirler have to re-audition.” The audition process is worth it though, as all the twirlers do receive a scholarship for the fall and spring semesters. Salina summarized the process by saying “The audition process was the smoothest audition I have ever been to. Before we started, we prayed as a group in a circle. Then we went over the routine a few times and the instructor, Madison Burns, asked if we had any questions and then we got our numbers from a random selection. We first did the group routine in two different groups. Then the twirlers that were auditioning for head instructed us as part of their audition process. One by one we did our solos. While one girl was going there was the next one waiting in the little hallway. After all the solos were done, they had the interviews for Head Twirler and Feature Twirler. Once results were in, we all got into a circle and Madison gave us a letter which told us if we made it or not. After we found out she introduced us for all of the parents and people who came to support. Honestly the whole time the girls that were returning were really nice and accepting of us, which made it a lot easier and not stressful at all. The whole time I really wasn’t that nervous. The environment was very relaxed and encouraging.”
Now that we have learned how they became Tiger Twirlers, let’s learn more about them! Jana Higgs, Feature Twirler
Jana is a Junior from Henderson, Texas, that is majoring in nursing. At ETBU, in addition to being the Feature Twirler, she is also a part of the TNSA organization within their nursing school. Jana has been twirling for 12 years and has "taken lessons from Paige Keitt since I have been in the 5th grade. Kayli Mickey-McIntosh and Patti Mickey have also been a huge help in choreographing multiple routines throughout my twirling career.” The competition title she is the proudest of earning was when she won the Senior Grand Champion for Premier Performer in East Texas her junior year of high school. Her favorite field trick is three batons because while she finds it challenging sometimes, “the crowd loves it!” On the competition floor though, her favorite thing to do isn’t specifically a trick. “I really like showing more personality during competition routines and adding more cute sequences in the routines.” In baton twirling, she has been most inspired by the Baylor Golden Girls. “My family has always been Baylor fans, so I have grown up going to the games and watching the featured twirlers. They have really been an inspiration during my twirling career.” After college, she hopes to become a registered RN and maybe go into the labor and delivery specialty.
Courtney Smith, Head Twirler
Courtney is a Senior from Henderson, Texas, that is majoring in Behavioral Science with a minor in Counseling. She has been twirling for 10 years and has been coached by Paige Keitt. Her favorite competition trick is three baton juggles. In baton twirling, she has been most inspired by ETBU Feature Twirler, Jana Higgs. After college, Courtney hopes to get a Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and become a young adult LPC.
Emma is a sophomore from Henderson, Texas, that is majoring in Elementary Education. In addition to being a Tiger Twirler, at ETBU she is also a "Titus leader in the Women’s Ministry and loves going to campus events.” She has been twirling for 12 years and is coached by Paige Keitt. Her favorite competition trick is a toss leap, and her favorite field trick is golf swings. In baton twirling, she has been most inspired by World Gold Medalist, Savannah Miller. After college, Emma hopes to be an elementary school teacher.
Stefanie is a Sophomore from Lindale, Texas, that is majoring in Biology with a minor in Kinesiology. In addition to being a Tiger Twirler, she is in Thrive, which is a mentor program offered at ETBU. She has been twirling for 13 years and is coached by Abby Banko. The competition title she is the proudest of was when she won Premier Performer. Her favorite competition trick is a blind catch and her favorite field trick is a toss illusion. In baton twirling, she has been most inspired by Christan Patterson. After college, Stefanie would “love to go to medical school to become a pediatrician, and while in medical school I would like to be an athletic trainer.”
Katie is a Junior from Henderson, Texas, that is majoring in Finance and Economics. She has been twirling for 8 years. The competition title she is the proudest of earning was the Miss Twirl Productions Unlimited event. Her favorite competition trick is three baton horizontal boxes, and her favorite field trick is a toss illusion. After college, Katie hopes to work with the International Mission Board.
Kala is a Junior from Henderson, Texas, that is majoring in Biochemistry. In addition to being a Tiger Twirler, she is also a member of the Joyful Praise Choice. She has been twirling for around 14 years and is coached by Joan Bridges. The competition title she is the proudest of earning was being named “Best Showmanship.” Her favorite competition trick is any multiple baton trick, and her favorite field trick is anything involving high tosses. In baton twirling, she has been most inspired by her twirling instructor, Joan Bridges. After college, Kala hopes to finish her undergraduate degree and go to pharmacy school to get her Doctor of Pharmacy and Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences.”
Salina is a Freshman from Nacogdoches, Texas, that is majoring in Speech Communication with a minor in business and speech pathology. In addition to being a Tiger Twirler, at ETBU she is involved in Thrive, Titus, and BSM. She has been twirling for 15 years and is coached by Crystal Kilmer with the Twirlerettes. The competition title she is the proudest of earning was the SWTA State Twirler. Her favorite competition trick is a toss illusion one turn, and her favorite field trick is three baton juggles. In baton twirling, she has been most inspired by Caroline Carothers and Joel Claudio. After college, Salina hopes to have her own speech pathology business.
Taylor is a Freshman from Hallsville, Texas, and is majoring in nursing. In addition to being a Tiger Twirler, she is also a part of the Baptist Student Ministry. She has been twirling for 8 years. Her favorite competition skills are toss jumps and any two baton tricks, and her favorite field tricks are the group tosses. After college, Taylor hopes to be a nurse practitioner in a small town near home.
- Favorite Color – Green (Jana), Blue (Courtney & Taylor), Seafoam Green (Emma), Pink (Stefanie), Forest Green (Katie), Coral Pink (Kala), Purple (Salina)
- Favorite Movie or TV Show – The Proposal (Jana), Top Gun (Courtney), Boy Meets World (Emma), Greys Anatomy (Stefanie), Friends (Katie), Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Kala), Avengers & The Summer I Turned Pretty (Salina), The new Footloose (Taylor)
- Favorite Book – “It Ends With Us” by Colleen Hoover (Courtney), “The Live Original” series by Sadie Robertson (Emma), “Nothing to Prove” by Jennie Allen (Stefanie), “Pride and Prejudice” (Katie), “The Hate You Give” (Kala), “The Book Thief” (Salina), “28 Summers” (Taylor)
- Favorite Food Item – “I love Italian food” (Jana), Sushi (Courtney), Mashed Potatoes (Emma), anything Mexican (Stefanie), Tortellini (Katie), Peanut Butter (Kala), Five cheese marinara rigatoni with meat balls (Salina), Chicken Spaghetti (Taylor)
- Jana – “The verse Matthew 28:20 has been my favorite verse for the longest time.”
- Courtney – “Remember your why!”
- Emma – “The unfailing love of the Lord never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies are new each day.”
- Stefanie – “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” - Mahatma Gandhi
- Katie – “aut viam inveniam aut faciam,” which means, “I will either find a way or I will make one.”
- Kala – “I was built this way for a reason, so I’m going to use it!” – Simone Biles
- Salina – “To be early is to be on time… to be on time is to be late.”
When they are not twirling, they love to…
- Jana – “Hang out with my family and friends and make the most memories I can with them.”
- Courtney – “Spend time with friends and try new things.”
- Emma – “Sing and hang out with friends.”
- Stefanie – “Hang out with my family and friends.”
- Katie – “Curl up with coffee and a good book.”
- Kala – “Watch YouTube videos.”
- Salina – “Hang out with friends and watch movies with them.”
- Taylor – “Hanging out with my boyfriend and spending time with family.”
Something most people might not know about them is…
- Jana – “I really enjoy hiking in the mountains.”
- Courtney – “I almost changed my major to engineering.”
- Emma – “I can say the alphabet backwards fast.”
- Stefanie – “I have been to Canada.”
- Katie – “I share a birthday with Mariah Carey.”
- Kala – “I am really shy.”
- Salina – “My favorite animal is a great white shark.”
- Taylor – “I competed in my town pageant and won Miss Congeniality.”
#1 non-twirling life skill they have learned from baton twirling...
- Jana – “I have learned that if you are persistent and show up, then all of your hard work will show.”
- Courtney – “How to work as a team and communicate with others.”
- Emma – “How to work as a team and how to not give up.”
- Stefanie – “Never give up!”
- Katie – “Romanticize your life. Enjoy the little things that you are doing because those are the ones you will remember far longer than the big things.”
- Kala – “The longer you do something the easier it gets.”
- Salina – “To keep persevering no matter what.”
- Taylor – “There will always be things you struggle with but if you keep pushing eventually it becomes easier.”
Most Memorable Advice from their Coach…
- Jana – “To really present yourself and show off during a performance and it really will make a difference in how people think about your performance.”
- Courtney – “Practice performance.”
- Emma – “Keep going!”
- Stefanie – “Practice the way you want to perform.”
- Katie – “Have fun with a routine. If you have fun with it, the audience will have fun watching it.”
- Kala – “Always give your best effort even when you are not feeling it.”
- Salina – “To keep your head up high.”
Advice to Future Twirlers…
- Jana – “Try to make it fun. If you are not trying to make it fun, then it will become something you “have” to do and not something you enjoy doing.”
- Courtney – “Practice is not meant to be perfect all the time. It is okay to make mistakes. That is just what comes with learning new things.”
- Emma – “Always stretch really well.”
- Stefanie – “Even when you are tired or overworked, take a little time to go out and practice. Also, take the time to get to know your teammates, you will be spending time with them and building that relationship is important.”
- Katie – “If you ever think of quitting, stick it out for a little longer. I promise it is all worth it one day when you look back on the memories you gained with it.”
- Kala – “Make sure you balance your practice time with schoolwork and social life.”
- Salina – “To keep up with it. I know that twirling can be very frustrating, but you just have to get going, keep pushing, keep showing up to the gym. If you keep with twirling, it can be one of the most rewarding things you do. You learn so much throughout the years of twirling. Also twirling is supposed to be fun, sooo HAVE FUN!”
- Taylor – “Do not let a trick defeat you it will come and always practice like you would perform.”
Favorite Memory as a Baton Twirler…
- Jana – “Twirling with a line of 30 girls in high school is something I will never forget. Having that many girls that share the love of twirling with you is such a great support that you rarely get.”
- Courtney – “Getting to lead the line with my best friend, Jana Higgs.”
- Emma – Going out to dinner and hanging out with the team.”
- Stefanie – “My very first high school football game as a twirler.”
- Katie – “Going out to eat with the line this past semester.”
- Kala – “My favorite memory would have to be my first twirling competition in 1st grade when we were honeybees.”
- Salina – “The moment after you preform and you are out of breath, sweating but you are still smiling because you know you did your best and you rocked it! Getting to hearing the crowd cheering for you!”
- Taylor – “My senior year of High School when I got to march in the Disney parade."
Funniest Memory as a Baton Twirler…
- Jana – “One time when I was performing a solo, the baton hit my face and now I have a fake tooth.”
- Emma – “All the laughs while playing games at our coach’s house.”
- Stefanie – “Getting a concussion at practice.”
- Katie – “Teaching the powder puff twirlers in high school who were all guys, and all wanted to do a routine on the field at the powder puff game.”
- Kala – “Almost falling off of my box during our halftime performance in high school during our prop routine.”
- Taylor – “In high school we were practicing our spins to get more turns, and someone complimented me on mine and then three seconds later I fell flat on my face, and it became a joke on the line.”
What advice would they give to a twirler about to go into college auditions…
- Jana – “Just do your best and try to find things before you perform that will ease your nerves. I also find it very beneficial if you use those nerves to help you during your performance.”
- Courtney – “Work hard but have fun! College where you meet your lifelong friends and make tons of memories. Twirling is a great outlet to get away from everything sometimes, especially during college.”
- Emma – “Do not stress and take a deep breath!”
- Stefanie – “Do not stress out, the less stressed you are the more fun you have.”
- Katie – “Enjoy every performance, even the ones that terrify you. Perform the routine because you love twirling, not for the audience. They will enjoy the routine more when you get comfortable out on the floor.”
- Kala – “The best advice I have is to not think too much about it. Just go out there and have fun, and I promise you will do great.”
- Salina – “Be positive and be prepared.”
- Taylor – “Have fun! Also, make friends with the other girls because they will be your support system during your freshman year.”
Their favorite thing about attending ETBU is...
- Jana – “I really enjoy the small sized classes. This allows me to make connections with the people I have in my class and with my professors as well.”
- Courtney – “My favorite thing about ETBU is how invested all the professors and coaches are in their students.”
- Emma – “I love the Christian community I am a part of.”
- Stefanie – “My favorite thing is how nice and welcoming everyone is here. You don’t feel out of place.”
- Katie – “My favorite thing about my school is the community that we all have. I see someone I know everywhere I go during the day! It’s really nice going to a smaller school where everyone knows everyone.”
- Kala – “My favorite thing about ETBU is the events that are held on campus. Almost every week there is something to do to keep you busy besides doing homework and studying all the time.”
- Salina – “My favorite thing about my school is the community. You really get a sense of family here and it’s very rare anywhere else. It’s not like you just stay in one friend group. Even if you don’t know the person that you are passing, they still will greet you. Also, the faculty on this campus are exceptional. They all make sure to do everything in their power to help students. The cafeteria workers are also very nice and always ask how your day is going. You can just feel the presence of God on this campus.”
- Taylor – “The professors, all my teachers have my best interest and because we are a smaller campus, we have one on one contact every day.”
Their favorite Game Day tradition at ETBU is...
- Jana – “I love the homecoming pep rally. Every performance team gets to perform a routine and they recognize the homecoming court. The best part is at the very end they do a firework show and everyone watches it on the football field.”
- Courtney – “Halftime at football games.”
- Emma – “I enjoy praying as a team before we twirl.”
- Stefanie – “Homecoming pep rally the night before homecoming, they blackout the stadium and do fireworks.”
- Katie – “My favorite game day tradition is hanging out with the other twirlers for the day. We meet at call time for morning practices, and we meet early at games to stretch and warmup. After that, we get to pray together, and kind of hype each other up.”
- Kala – “My favorite school tradition would have to be Connexus. Connexus is a day filled with fun activities and a day off from classes to build community with faculty, staff, and students.”
- Salina – “Getting ready!”
- Taylor – “My favorite tradition is the Lampsato Ceremony. At ETBU we have a lamp that shines 24/7 to represent that we are the light on the hill and every freshman gathers around it during orientation and we worship The Lord together to start the year.”
We want to say thank you to these awesome twirlers for sharing their experiences with us, and we wish them a wonderful rest of their season. Go Tigers!
We hope you have enjoyed this blog post. We are always looking for great new stories about Texas twirlers. Do you have an idea or some information we could use to help highlight our sport? Contact us at email@example.com and we would love to hear more about it.