Victory Twirlers after practice

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT — The Victory Twirlers — including Abby Zabens, Ava Read, Scotlyn Gill, Holly Kimley, Leah Paone and Ireland Williams — with their teacher, Linda Bates, are seen here posing for a photo after their Friday night practice on Dec. 11. At 5 p.m., teacher Linda Bates begins teaching her youngest, newest students the basics of baton twirling. At 5:30 p.m., more of her students begin arriving for some extra practice time. By 6 p.m., her entire group of 12 students has arrived for evening practice. The group practices outside of the Simply Sweet ice cream parlor in DeLand, and Bates said once a month or so, she treats the girls to ice cream cones.

DeLandite Linda Bates has been twirling batons nearly her whole life. Now, taking advantage of everyone’s extra time at home, she is passing her skills along to a new generation of twirlers.

The idea came to Bates at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. With everyone leaving the house as little as possible, athletic programs halted, and schooling shifted online, she saw a need.

“I was outside taking a walk, and I asked my two nearest little neighbors if they had ever done baton-twirling, and they said they were interested,” Bates recalled. “COVID-19 didn’t stop us from learning something new.”

Bates named the newly minted group “the Victory Twirlers,” after the neighborhood where she and most of her students live — Victoria Commons. The group meets outdoors for practice every Friday, and the twirlers maintain social distancing.

Victory Twirlers after July 4 performance

JULY FOURTH CELEBRATION — Linda Bates celebrates the baton-twirling troupe she created with her young neighbors at Victoria Commons, the Victory Twirlers. With her, from left, are Holly Kimley, Ave Read, Scotlyn Gill and Ireland Williams. Bates put together a routine for the Victory Twirlers that had them marching and twirling batons through Victoria Commons on July 4. “We got our red, white and blue together and marched around the block,” Bates said. “We honored a Marine veteran with flowers, and I told the kids all about Veterans Day and the Fourth of July.” The twirlers wear masks during their events and rehearsals. 

Bates’ students, all girls, are between the ages of 7 and 12.

One of her students is Scotlyn Gill, who is 10 years old and one of Bates’ neighbors. Gill was one of the group’s founding members.

Her mother, Sabrina Gill, said the girls had no idea their neighbor was an experienced twirling teacher when she pitched the idea.

Her daughter, she said, took to the sport immediately. Sabrina Gill said she really appreciates the hard work Bates puts in.

“It definitely was a great opportunity for her, because Ms. Linda is a true teacher. We’ve got a professional right behind us, and we had no idea,” Sabrina Gill said. “It gave the girls something to look forward to. They truly love it.”

Nicole Read, whose 10-year-old daughter, Ava Read, is a Victory Twirler, said the activity came about at the perfect time. Her daughter’s martial-arts program had closed its doors due to the pandemic.

“This gave her an opportunity, because Ms. Linda did everything outside,” she said. “They were able to be outside and spread apart. They were able to see each other and be involved in a group activity. It was a perfect outlet.”

‘I think your passion never leaves you, no matter how old you are’

Linda Bates began baton-twirling in high school at the age of 14, she told The Beacon.

As a twirler in her hometown of Albany, New York, she fell in with a group called the Millerette Metronomes. With the Metronomes, she was able to travel and march in parades from Cape Cod to New Orleans.

Now 74 years old, she has a lifetime of experience to share.

“I used to teach it, and then I judged at different competitions when I was in college,” she said. “There’s so much fun to be had with other people when you’re learning something like this.”

Bates said she wasn’t sure if any of the girls would pursue twirling beyond the Victory Twirlers, but she hopes the skills they are learning will help them throughout their lives.

Baton-twirler Linda Bates from 1961

LIFETIME OF PRACTICE — Around the age of 15, Linda Bates practices for a competition. Bates grew up in Albany, New York, and joined a group called the Millerette Metronomes. With the Metronomes, Bates traveled to competitions and parades, but there was no twirling program at her high school. That is, at least until she did something about it. “When I was a senior, I went to the principal and convinced him it was a part of the band as much as the cheerleaders were, and we got it added!” she said.

“I’ve told them we’re a team, and as a team, we help each other,” Bates said. “That’s what’s important to me, is working together and being a team.”

Like any athletic skill, it’s not easy to master.

“If you pick up a baton, it doesn’t feel natural to move it so the baton falls backward on your arm. It takes focus,” Bates said. “You’re not born knowing how to twirl any more than you are knowing how to shoot a basketball.”

Even though Bates thought she put her batons away for good when she moved to DeLand three years ago, teaching the kids, she said, has been a great experience for everyone involved.

In a way, Bates said, she never really quit.

“I’m friends with my twirling group up North, and when I told them I’m doing this, they were amazed!” she said. “It’s OK if I’m a twirling grandma, right?”

While she spent a few years not actively twirling, her batons were never far.

“I have this umbrella stand by my front door, and it has all these batons,” she said with a laugh. “I think your passion never leaves you, no matter how old you are.”

The Victory Twirlers Christmas performance will be held at 6:45 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18, outside of Culture Fusion Bistro, 1431 Orange Camp Road, Suite 107, in DeLand, featuring a baton-twirling routine set to “Jingle Bell Rock.”