TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Through 40 years of experience, the Sunshine State Games has adapted to trends within the Amateur Sports world. The roster of sports expanded as the demand has called for their inclusion. New facilities around the state are utilized as they have become available.
In 2020, a year that has seen many sports of the Games postponed or canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Sunshine State Games has once again adapted as the Baton Twirling competition is going virtual.
Rather than gathering at a public venue, athletes will be in a location of their choice and judges will be calculating scores in the comfort of their own homes.
Originally scheduled for March at the Tallahassee Community College Bill Hebrock Eagledome, the 2020 Baton Twirling Championship is now a two-day event on July 18-19, on Zoom.
SSG Baton Twirling Sport Director Mary Molder has been at the forefront of a movement to give athletes a chance to compete through the Zoom online platform. She has led three previous virtual events prior to the Sunshine State Games, including the Ohio State Games on June 20. She will also present the Alabama State Games in August and Georgia Games Baton Twirling in September.
“This type of competition is working out very well,” said Molder. “No one wants to travel during these times. This competition allows kids to compete in full costumes and they welcome the opportunity.”
With the registration deadline currently closed, 62 athletes have registered to compete. Athletes from 20 U.S. states and Canada have the opportunity to win a medal in the nation’s longest consecutive years running State Games.
Each athlete will have a set time on July 18 and 19 to perform. A Zoom link will be sent to the athletes by the event organizers. Up to five judges will be watching solo performances to compile scores that will be emailed to competitors and results will be posted on sunshinestategames.com within three to five days.
Athletes can choose their flat performance stage whether it be in a gymnasium or studio or outdoors on a tennis or basketball court, or at home in their driveway.
If performing outdoors, one of the things athletes must be aware of is the weather and have an alternate location, according to Bobby McBride, a Tallahassee-based twirling coach, who has served as an online judge.
“I was judging a competition with an athlete in their backyard and the wind was horrible,” McBride said. “It caused the baton to move around in the air.”
McBride also stressed athletes need to be aware of their music and devices rather than have event personnel taking care of it at a venue. Other aspects of the virtual competition to be aware of is the athlete’s internet connection for the performance. Additionally, costumes may clash with the chosen surroundings.
One of the things that stands out in the instructions on the SSG Baton Twirling website page, athletes are instructed to make sure their first experience on Zoom is not the day of competition.
“With my athletes, we usually do a few virtual practices,” says McBride. “That way I can instruct them where to be in front of their laptop camera or phone. I tell them to plan to be in certain areas and offer tips about how their costume works with their backgrounds.”
Much like the Sunshine State Games, the Ohio State Games had athletes competing from all over the U.S., Canada and Europe.
“The Ohio State Games went very well,” Molder said. “We had several test runs in March and April leading up to the events that began in May. I have received many thank you messages from athletes and parents for allowing them to perform. We will probably be using this format until the end of the year.”
Baton Twirling has been held intermittently during the Sunshine State Games 40+ years. The last run came in 2016 in Vero Beach and the 2017 competition was held in conjunction with the Palm Beach County Festival at the Palm Beach Convention Center.
The 2020 Sunshine State Games Baton Twirling Championships feature athletes beginning at five years old and reaching into their 50s.
“Most athletes compete into their 20s and then go into teaching and instructing,” Molder said.
McBride’s path to the 2020 Sunshine State Games did not follow such a direction. He began competing in the sport at age 25 and was a participant in the 1998 Sunshine State Games, held in Kissimmee.
After his SSG performance, McBride advanced to National competitions and earned a United States Twirling Association (USTA) Adult Beginner and Intermediate Level Championship titles.
Under the watchful eyes of Molder, McBride and others, batons will be launched into the air and athletes will continue to master their sports on July 18-19 as the 2020 Sunshine State Games continue after a four-month absence.