- Associated Press - Thursday, July 24, 2014

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Rhinestones, glitter and hairspray abound this week at the Joyce Center at the University of Notre Dame.

The total transformation of the home of the Fighting Irish basketball team can mean only one thing - America’s Youth on Parade (AYOP), often called the “World Series of Baton Twirling,” is back in town for its 45th year.

“AYOP is really an umbrella for 47 national and world championship events,” Don Sartell, producer/director of the event, told the South Bend Tribune (https://bit.ly/1kdRg6T ) Wednesday.

“This year is especially exciting because it is a world qualifying year. The grand winners (the top three in each division) will go on to represent the U.S. in the world championships in Italy next April.”

Needless to say, the tension is high.

“Every once in a while, you can’t even walk down the aisles surrounding the arena,” said Leonard Gish, who has been a control usher for the weeklong event since its first year. “We have to go through and keep everyone on one side, because it can be a fire hazard.”

The aisles serve as home base for the competitors, who range from Tiny Tots (ages 0-6) to collegiate, as well as their families and coaches.

The areas are filled with costume racks, mirrors, blankets and pop-up tents that function as makeshift dressing rooms. Some competitors have their hair and makeup adjusted while others scarf down their meals between practice times and performances.

Gish said he has witnessed his fair share of blood, sweat and tears in these halls.

“I’m nervous and excited,” Audrey Brick, 11, said as her sister adjusted her makeup. Brick, who competes in both Group and Individual divisions with Illinois’ Wood Dale Stars, has been practicing 20 to 30 hours per week leading up to the competition.

“It surprised us how big the competition was,” her father, Josh Brick, said. “It’s a big year because of world qualifiers, but we’re not expecting that this year quite yet.”

For others, the competition is extremely fierce. “This is the only nationals for the NBTA (National Baton Twirling Association) division of twirling. I’ve been attending for 12 years,” said Maranda Sutton, 18. She is competing in the Collegiate Division representing the University of Missouri, going up against dozens of advanced twirlers in pursuit of the national collegiate twirling title.

“Baton twirling is a sport, and it is also a performing art,” Sartell said. “These kids are working hard competing all week long, and they are the best of the best.”

All AYOP events are free and open to the public, but Sartell especially encouraged spectators to attend the Collegiate Solo Finals Friday at 6 p.m. and the “Big Show” Saturday at 5 p.m., which features only the top performers.


Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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