HINSDALE, N.H. -- Some people might not think of baton twirling as a serious sport, but the members of the Brattleboro Area Baton Twirlers know differently.
"Not many people know a lot about baton twirling, so it's hard to get people to understand it and recognize it as a sport," said Alison Cornellier, 18, at the Hinsdale Elementary School gymnasium Tuesday evening.
Cornellier, who graduated from Brattleboro Union High School last year, was practicing with her teammates and had just nailed a new trick that involved throwing the baton between her legs.
There's more to it than people think, she said, adding that it's just like any sport -- it takes a lot of hard work and determination.
"And it's difficult," she said. "You have to throw a metal stick in the air, and it could hit you."
Cornellier has been a member of the Brattleboro Area Baton Twirlers since she was 4 years old. The hard work she and her teammates put into their weekly practices has paid off over the years, earning them numerous state and regional championship titles.
Now the Twirlers are preparing to represent Vermont in front of a national audience at the National Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C., and this weekend they are throwing a dinner-dance at the Hinsdale VFW to raise money for the trip.
The roast beef dinner will be from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and will cost $7 per person. The dance, with DJ by S&M Productions, will be from 8 p.
The cost of the dinner and the dance is $10 per person. Tickets will be available at the door.
Each of the 19 participating baton twirlers are charged with raising $576 each to attend the upcoming event. They are also hoping to raise enough money to purchase new, patriotic red costumes and a larger banner that can be more easily seen than the smaller one the club currently carries in parades.
"We want to look spectacular because we're representing the state of Vermont," said Lynda Lawrence, coach of the Brattleboro Area Baton Twirlers since 1993.
The dinner-dance is the largest fundraising event the team has ever undertaken, according to parent Norma Manning.
"In the past, we've done bake sales and car washes," Manning said.
And the team still plans on doing those things as well, (they're doing a bottle drive in Brattleboro April 9), but for the Washington, D.C., trip they stepped it up a notch.
"We felt we needed to organize a booster club to try to raise some money in time, so we started the Brattleboro Area Baton Boosters, a nonprofit," said Manning.
The trip includes more than just marching in the parade; the baton twirlers, who range in age from elementary school to college students, will get to explore Washington, D.C., for three days.
They will go on tours of the city's many famous memorials and museums, and they have even applied to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
They will also give a special one-hour performance in front of the Jefferson Memorial.
Lawrence said she purposely seeks out opportunities for her students to see different parts of the country.
"A lot of them have never been to Washington, D.C.," she said. "They were in shock when I told them (we were accepted.
She agrees with her long-time student that baton twirling looks deceptively easy.
"It's more athletic than people think," Lawrence said. "It's a great sport for self-confidence, and it's really good for teamwork. You have to be graceful and strong."
She has enjoyed watching students like Cornellier grow up and advance their skills, and they often go on to perform on an even larger stage. Two members of the Brattleboro Area Baton Twirlers, Amanda Sargent, 22, and Jackie Cawley, 19, are currently twirling for their college teams.
"To see them at the college level is amazing," Lawrence said. "To see their talent grow is really cool."
The Brattleboro Area Baton Boosters are planning a 99 Restaurant Night, a bingo night, a spaghetti dinner, a flower bulb sale, and many more fundraisers to be held this summer (exact dates have yet to be announced.)
Anyone seeking more information about the Brattleboro Area Baton Twirlers and those who would like to give a donation are asked to call Lynda Lawrence at 802-387-2383 or 802-558-1001.
Jaime Cone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.