WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. - As the silver and gold sequins on glittery leotards reflect the warmth of the late October sun, the streaking batons of three Purdue twirlers sail end over end high above the Ross-Ade Stadium turf.
And if there’s a special energy in that toss on Saturday, Oct. 28 – when Purdue plays Ohio State - it just might be due to the fact that Golden Girl Abby Moore and Silver Twins Erin Buescher and Wendy King are all Ohio natives.
"We’re really excited about this game because Ohio’s our home. We’re working really hard because we want to be even more perfect (on the field)," says King, a senior from Sidney, Ohio, majoring in speech pathology who’s partnered with Buescher as a Silver Twin for three years. "We want Ohio to be proud of us," she says.
Buckeyes by birth, this trio of talented twirlers knew at an early age that they’d become Boilermakers if they had the chance. In twirling circles, the Purdue "All-American" Marching Band maintains a reputation for cherishing its twirlers, something not every university can boast. Over recent decades, the twirling tradition at many Midwest and northern universities has lost its sparkle, and even completely disappeared.
"For some reason twirling has kept its popularity in the south," a fact that might be related to the continuing popularity of featured twirling there, says Alisha Bane Kuckartz, a former Purdue Golden Girl who now serves as auxiliary coordinator.
So many doors have been opened to young women in recent decades that twirling is not longer the only way for them to enjoy a spotlight. "I see all the things offered for girls nowadays that were not offered years ago. Girls can be on the soccer team as well as be a cheerleader, be on the dance team, play an instrument in band or play basketball. You can do all those things through the school and there’s not too much to pay extra. Twirling is completely on your own, and not school supported," Kuckartz says.
But for those attracted to twirling – like Moore, King and Buescher – there is nothing else like it.
Moore, a sophomore from Kettering, Ohio, stepped into the gilded boots of graduating Golden Girl Ann Loppnow at Purdue this fall. She fell in love with twirling when she was four by watching the Kettering Fairmont High School Band and its featured twirler march by her house on its way to football games.
"She was just amazing to watch, so graceful and beautiful," Moore, a psychology major, recalls. When Moore entered kindergarten, her mother signed her up for lessons. "I loved it from then on, and I stuck with it," she adds.
Football audiences see the flashy results of endless hours of practice and it seems very glamorous. "Once you’re out on the field it does feel glamorous," Moore says. "But in the gym, it’s hard work everyday."
Kuckartz says twirlers like the Ohio trio rise to the top of their art form because of self-discipline. "They have to practice by themselves, go to the gym by themselves. And when they get into competition, they compete by themselves. On a team it’s a little easier to get motivated when you’ve got 20 others doing it with you. When you’re the only one in the gym it’s hard. People who are self motivated are the ones who stick it out."
As a solo twirler, Moore assumes the responsibility for her own choreography and little bit by little bit is putting her own stamp on the Golden Girl. "I’m trying to be a little more daring…..it gets easier every time. I’ve been throwing more extra things in there," she says.
The Silver Twin routines developed by King and Buescher, a senior from Jackson, Ohio, reflect the confidence and experience of three years of working together. Although the two are not twins in real life, as some Purdue sets have been, they have a lot in common being from the same state, pursuing the same major (speech pathology), sharing the same passion for twirling and being best friends.
"From all the years I’ve been connected with Purdue, Wendy and Erin are the closest ‘twins’ that I’ve seen. They compliment each other really well. And because they know each other’s style so well, they come up with neat things," says Kuckartz, who sees the duo awarded with generous and well-deserved applause at each game.
Melding two individuals with unique styles into one unison performing unit wasn’t easy. Buescher’s style favored technique and speed while King’s was more stylistic, flowing and pretty.
"That was the hardest thing - to compromise, to look as one," says Buescher. But, on the other hand, "it left more room for creativity as we found ways to interact," says King.
Both liked gymnastic moves and the duo has made it their trademark.
After the first year of choreographing routines together, "I would go to say what should be next and Wendy would say it. We complete each other," Buescher says.
"We’ve never had a disagreement and we’re not just saying that," adds King. "We’re not into saying it has to be ‘my way.’ If Erin wants a different trick than me, we’ll put it in and maybe next time we’ll do mine."
All three Purdue solo twirlers with Ohio roots competed heavily in high school, and twirled in front of their high school bands. They were used to spotlight treatment. Even so, the spotlight they found at Purdue was different - and they say it has to do with tradition.
"I’ve seen every single Golden Girl perform. The tradition is amazing but I didn’t know how big it was (until stepping into the role)," says Moore.
"During the pregame show, the energy from the crowd when you sing the Alma Mater and the fight song makes you feel so proud. You know you’re helping a tradition stay alive."
-Story by Kathy Matter, Purdue Band