The four West Virginia University feature twirlers are among the most recognized members of “The Pride of West Virginia”–-The Mountaineer Marching Band now they have been recognized as the top twirlers in the world.
The WVU twirlers won the 2014 Twirl Mania International Team Collegiate Competition, held last weekend at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.
The twirlers include Kirsten Brown, of North Canton, Ohio; Kylie Garner, of Elizabethtown, Pa.; Whitney Godwin, of Flatwoods, W.Va.; and Toriane Graal, of Massillon, Ohio. They are coached by Paula Jo Meyer-Stout, a former WVU feature twirler and associate professor of pharmaceutics at WVU.
The WVU twirlers and their coach will be recognized by the University at the WVU men’s basketball game on Saturday, March 1, where the twirlers will also perform their award-winning routine at pre-game.
The Twirl Mania Competition took place Feb. 14-16 and featured more than 30 collegiate twirling programs from the United States and Puerto Rico, as well as numerous individual competitors from around the world.
The WVU twirlers made it to the top in the finals by beating out Florida State University, the University of Florida and Penn State University, all previous national champions.
Kirsten Brown is a recent WVU graduate with a Wildlife and Fisheries Resources degree from the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. She is a six-year member of the WVU feature twirlers and came to WVU because it had an excellent twirling program within an award-winning collegiate marching band.
“WVU is known for having a great marching band and awesome fans,” she said.
“I was surprised when the WVU feature twirlers were named the World Champions, because the competition was tough and it’s hard to determine the outcome when there are so many great teams competing for the title.”
She is proud to be able to represent her school and come home with a victory.
“It’s great to show everyone how good our twirling program is and hopefully this will encourage more people to get involved,” she said.
Brown began dancing at age 5 and picked up twirling a year later. Something about twirling came so effortlessly to her, and she has stuck with it ever since. Over her many years of twirling she has competed in and won many competitions both nationally and internationally. Her favorite competition experience was when she qualified for the World Championships in France, England and the Netherlands and won gold, silver and bronze medals.
She said her favorite experiences with the WVU Marching Band have been traveling to away football games and performing at high school band shows.
She hopes that the WVU feature twirlers will have the opportunity to compete at Twirl Mania again next year.
“We are fortunate to have the band help us with the costs of competing and traveling for the competition,” she said.
Kylie Garner is a junior Exercise Physiology major and in her third year with the feature twirlers.
She said the Twirl Mania experience was great, especially when the WVU twirlers were named the winners.
“We were all very surprised and excited. We couldn’t believe it was really happening,” she said.
Garner learned how to twirl when she was 3 after her mother signed her up for classes. She began competing when she was 6 and has participated in many national competitions around the country.
She enjoys twirling because there is something new and challenging to learn every time you pick up a baton.
“I love the challenge of the sport,” she said.
WVU was the right college choice for Garner because of the team aspect of the WVU feature twirlers. WVU has four twirlers, while most other universities have only two, or a majorette line.
“I love being part of a team and being an individual twirler as well,” Garner said. “I love being a member of the WVU Band and twirling at home football games in front of 60,000 cheering fans. My favorite part of the experience is being able to run out of the tunnels before every pregame performance.”
Whitney Godwin is working on her master’s degree in the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism and will graduate in May. She has been a WVU feature twirler for five years.
Like the other twirlers, Godwin was stunned when WVU was awarded first place at Twirl Mania. The tough competition showed that anyone could come out on top.
“Florida State and Penn State have both been national champions before,” she said. “I’m pretty sure I cried when they announced it.”
Godwin started twirling classes when she was 3 and at the age of 4 she took lessons from a WVU feature twirler and found her inspiration. Ever since then, it was her dream to twirl at WVU.
She began competing in twirling competitions when she was 5 and has participated in competitions in West Virginia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Peru and other parts of the United States.
“Each competition is unique, but my favorite part of competing is all the wonderful people you meet from all around the world,” she said.
Godwin auditioned to be a WVU feature twirler because she wanted to follow her childhood dream and be a part of the Mountaineer family.
“I was raised a Mountaineer. I bleed blue and gold through and through. I couldn’t imagine twirling anywhere else.”
Even though she spends most of her time during band season rehearsing with her fellow twirlers, Godwin enjoys meeting others in the WVU Band. She has met some of her best friends in the band and is proud to be a member of the 400-member band family.
Godwin loves twirling for WVU and representing the University at competitions.
“It’s been my dream since I was a little girl, and to live out that dream with Mountaineer Nation has been the highlight of my twirling career. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience as a college twirler,” she said.
Toriane Graal is a sophomore mathematics major. This year marked her second year with the WVU feature twirlers.
At the Twirl Mania competition, she said the most nerve-wracking part wasn’t performing, but waiting in anticipation for the results. “Finally, when they announced Florida State in second place, we immediately started jumping up and down and screaming because we knew we had won.”
Graal began twirling at a young age, despite the wishes of her mother, who is a twirling coach.
“My mom swore that if she had a daughter, she wouldn’t become a twirler,” she said.
When Graal was 3, she was brought into a studio, handed a baton and immediately began twirling it. One of the instructors recommended that she enroll in a baby baton class. By age 6, she was already competing at the advanced level.
Graal has been competing in twirling for 16 years. She has experience in both national and international competitions such as the National Baton Twirling Association Worlds in France and Holland, national, regional and state competitions, The Junior Olympics, Twirl Mania and Twirling Unlimited Internationals and the Regional Congressional Cup.
Graal knew 10 other twirlers who had gone to school at WVU, and the Department of Mathematics was just what she was looking for.
She enjoys traveling around the country with the WVU Band and showing everyone what the feature twirlers are about. She also enjoys the thrill of performing at WVU home games.
“There isn’t anything better than running out of the tunnels on game day at Mountaineer field,” she said.
Graal is proud to travel to these competitions and represent “The Pride of West Virginia” and WVU. “Being able to bring them both back a national championship tops it all.”
The WVU Feature Twirler program is directed by Paula Jo Meyer-Stout, auxiliary coordinator and twirling coach for the WVU Marching Band. Meyer-Stout, formerly from Weirton, W.Va., has been a member of The Pride staff for 29 years, recruiting numerous champion twirlers to WVU.
“We have a long-standing reputation for bringing world-renowned twirlers to WVU, and this title confirms what we already knew about these four talented student athletes,” she said. “Winning this international competition was one of my proudest moments as a member of the WVU community.
“I am delighted for these twirlers, and that we can bring the recognition of a National Championship in college twirling back to WVU and The Pride of West Virginia. I also hope that this encourages the youth in our state to pursue this incredible sport and art.”
Auditions for feature twirler positions for the 2014-15 academic year will be held on campus on Saturday, April 12.
CONTACT: Charlene Lattea, College of Creative Arts
Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.