John and I go back over 20 years. Granted I was about 10, but we have seen each other at clinics, camps, contests, pageants, and now, the podcast!
John was one of the first twirlers to create a non-profit directly impacting twirlers. You won't want to miss this episode!
See how you can help Twirling to Fight Cancer in your area!
Baton Twirling Project: Thank you so much for coming on with me! What is your current role in Baton Twirling?
John Mitchell: I am a judge for NBTA, National Baton Twirling Association. I’m also a instructor, so I teach all over the country. Then my other big role, that really to me right now is why I even work to stay involved, is being the Director of and Founder of Twirling to Fight Cancer.
Baton Twirling Project: I think you were one of the first to go an do a non-profit for all of Baton Twirling. I really love that.
John Mitchell: Thank you.
Baton Twirling Project: What made you want to start Twirling to Fight Cancer?
John Mitchell: My mother had gotten cancer, it’s now been 8 years ago, and we really got in a slight tizzy, a slight craziness. My friend who was a Twirling Mom at that time had her own business called Twirlers Link. We got connected because we had been friends forever, and her mother had got diagnosed that same week. We were both like, "Oh my God, this is horrible." We went into action - why don’t we do a T-shirt supporting my Mom and the whole Cancer effort. We could just put the people that knew me when I was little Johnny Mitchell that would probably support me on the back of the shirt. The Jazz Dolls, the Modernettes, just all my east coast twirling teams and studios. That’s exactly what happened.
Then it took off from there because at Nationals everybody was like, “Oh my God this is so cool. I want to buy one because my Nana had cancer, my grandma, my coach.” That’s when I realized this is bigger than me. Although they’re there to support me now, this needs to continue. It’s taken off since then and been really successful.
Baton Twirling Project: Great that’s amazing! How’s your mom doing now?
John Mitchell: She’s good. Cancer free.
Baton Twirling Project: Yay!
John Mitchell: She’s cancer free now almost 7 years; 6 years because she got diagnosed the year after. That is when you can really consider yourself cancer free. It’s been a really crazy, but good, journey, technically.
Baton Twirling Project: How can twirlers find your organization or donate or promote it?
John Mitchell: Probably three major things right now on how to support.
1. The first one would be, the simple, get on Facebook, Like the page. It is Twirling to Fight Cancer (@TFTC). It used to be Twirling for the Cure, but now it’s Twirling to Fight Cancer. Get on that Facebook page, like it, post stuff if you can, just get involved in the community. Let’s hear your stories. Maybe you have some relatives that have survived. Maybe right now you’re a current twirler who wants to share their wisdom. Go do it. We all support them.
2. Then the other way would be to wear the T-shirts. Definitely support that way. I’m going to combine number two with also Caroline’s effort. Caroline Carothers also has the ribbons, which are the hair piece ribbons, that a lot of the colleges and university Twirlers, in addition to the high school Twirlers, now use during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, would also be another way.
So, wearing the product, just getting it out there so the community that isn’t Baton Twirler sees what we are doing and can really understand why we are doing something more than just wearing rhinestones.
3. The last thing would be, which I think really can grow and take it on a national platform, bigger than it already is, is getting involved with the Susan G Komen Race for the Cure. Literally, you sign up to race, sign up under the name Twirling to Fight Cancer, and then get your members, whether it be 5, 10, 50 to run or walk the race under Twirling to Fight Cancer. We went to all 50 states? That’s now newsworthy. That’s something really big that we can do. Then anyone can take the initiative on how much they want to involve themselves.
Baton Twirling Project: That sounds great.
Baton Twirling Project: I want to take a step back and ask: How did you first get involved with Baton Twirling, and what made you stick with it?
John Mitchell: This is slightly an easy answer because I’ve answered it many a times. One of things is my family was a 'parade family'. We would go the the 4th of July, the Memorial Day Parades. We’d go down to my grandmother’s house, and technically, my mother’s high school band would march in that parade.
Off the cuff, she was the first black Majorette in her high school, and I became the first black Twirler in my college. I would play Baton and would play parades because I was an only child, but I wasn’t allowed to bring the baton home because "it was for girls." I had to keep it at Grandma’s house. It was like the forbidden fruit. It was like, why can’t I Twirl? It just made me want to Twirl even more. Then I could watch the kids in the parade and I could see what they were doing. I would take it home; I could figure it out. I kinda taught myself for awhile.
By the time I got into the 6th grade my mom was like, "Ok he’s really into this." When she did find my coach, my coach was a former Miss Majorette of America, she worked for the University of Tennessee, Nancy Jean Dolfi, she’s in all of the history books, so she knew how to teach a guy, give me a masculine style, and then the rest was history.
Baton Twirling Project: What advice would you give to any male Twirlers who are currently learning how to twirl, and might be in the spot of, "Should I continue doing this? Should I move on?" What do you say to that?
John Mitchell: I think the crux comes in whether they can get to competition and technically be good enough to qualify for something big on the national level. Because now their feeling like they're a National Champion. It can justify why they are doing it to the kids that don’t want to understand it, or want to tease it, or whatever.
I also would say it’s gonna be critical to get that role model. Just to show me that there is somebody who looks like you that does this.
Those were people - I never met them, but Harry Brown was someone I had met that could fill me up differently than how my coach filled me up. And gave me this trick and be like, why would you do it that way? I need you to be like this. And talk to me like a guy talks to a guy. Then the other last person, as far as a twirler, my epitome of god of all Twirling was Donald Garcia. That was the showmen of the showmen. The difficulty of the difficulty. There could be no one better than Donald Garcia as far as I was concerned. It was like, he would catch his last trick and the whole Notre Dame dome side would go crazy.
The point and the answer to the question is you gotta still have the role model. You have to have the parents, in addition to the coach, if the guy Twirler, or if the guy Twirler isn’t close, maybe fly him in and get some lessons. Of course the young ladies have lessons with him too, but let them experience a male Twirler to understand the rhyme to the reason. And then we could talk about what it’s like as a male Twirler.
Baton Twirling Project: Yeah that’s true.
John Mitchell: Even if he can’t come, it’s easier now because we can do this: we can get on a phone, we can talk to them, we can do a lesson with them on the phone. Normally that’s gonna get them hooked too because they’re gonna try to show us what they learned which will take them 3 or 4 or 5 months into Twirling longer than when they were about to quit maybe that last week. That toughness, a little bit, I’d say sometimes can work. Not all boys, but for some boys.
Baton Twirling Project: I know you mentioned a little bit about Twirling in college. What was that like for you and what made you pursue it?
John Mitchell: Twirling in college, you know that always was the dream. The other dream was to make twirling known on the national landscape. Make it so it has its respect. As far as that experience of college opportunity it was life changing. I always wanted to Twirl for a big school. Twirling in college was great. It was an incredible opportunity. I really do like to share about the college Twirling though because that sometimes in the epitome of the epitome.
That’s where our professional outlet can kind of happen, from all the years of competing. Literally my stadium at Penn State held over 100,000 people. It just becomes, all that hard work, all those hours in the gym, it then makes it all worth it.
Everybody has their own little traditions, and it’s all different when you watch the schools do their styles. At the end of the day, it’s still the adrenaline, it’s still the school pride that we all understand. It doesn’t matter if it’s Texas A&M vs University of Texas. It doesn’t matter if it’s Pitt vs Penn State or Georgia vs Florida. It’s all that same energy of greatness that you’re like, I can’t believe I’m a part of it.
There’s so few that get to be college Twirlers and college feature Twirlers and that know you’re one of those, it just becomes where you’re honored. That’s a good word. Yeah you just feel honored.
Baton Twirling Project: I always say it’s a mark of pride.
Baton Twirling Project: What is something you want people to know about Baton Twirling?
John Mitchell: I think now a days, besides them getting how hard it is, is how much discipline and dedication it takes. I think it’s important for them to realize how much the international market has bought into Baton Twirling because that’s a lot of where the convincing that it’s actually still viable and it’s actually still alive. We have to take off the stigma of 4th of July. When you’ve already been exposed to Twirling, especially in the states, the Americas, of what Baton Twirling is. A lot of those other countries, internationally, they’ve just seen it as a sport.
Seeing it as a sport, they’ve treated it as a sport. It’s not to say we haven’t, but there is a pageantry to our style of Twirling that we have to own. It’s not that it makes it bad, it just makes it have a different type of a stigma. I would really want us to expose how it’s not only one thing. It’s not only something you see in Miss America. It’s not only something you see in a half time football game. That it can be something that you do actually go and pay for. Two Baton Twirlers are doing two different types of shows as part of Cirque de Soleil and they’re there, and one of them has been there over 10 years. That’s been her professional career.
That would be one of those things that I’d really like to get out there also is that it’s still here, it’s still viable, it’s still an incredible sport to watch, and extremely challenging, but also that there is still a huge international market that is also out there that we can really collaborate with and use to expose the sport to the masses.
Baton Twirling Project: I like that. I have a question....How do you feel about men judging modeling?
John Mitchell: I hate it. I hate it. I can do it. And I feel I do do it well. I do think it’s important young ladies do know how to model in a dress. I get that, and I get the turns, and there is an absolute technique to it. Now as a coach I have tried to attempt to teach it. I get it, but I think at the same time, I think as a male we can still get to the nature of what that young girl is thinking about and what her goals are and what her priorities are. We can still relate on that and the gender part doesn’t technically matter, but I don’t like in 2018 that it's still at times, especially when you see 60 and even twenty-some girls, and you’re like really, you’re just coming out in front of me? It can be very superficial.
Baton Twirling Project: Good answer.
John Mitchell: I don’t like the message it gives to young girls, especially when they are young, that if we don’t get to interview them and they are just sitting there in front of a male, it already sets the stage that, "Get ready for the rest of your life males are going to judge you on your appearance." That might be my issue but still.
Baton Twirling Project: I’ve definitely had a score sheet come back stating, "More lipstick." I'm thinking, "Don’t tell my student that! She’s 6!"
John Mitchell: Yes.
Baton Twirling Project: I understand that’s what they are looking for, but when they are under the age of even 13, I’m not gonna tell you need more makeup on your face. You look great how you are.
John Mitchell: You look great how you are. Yeah that’s a good question though.
Baton Twirling Project: What’s the most common question you get from non-twirlers?
John Mitchell: For me it’s, "Why did you do it. What made you Twirl?" Not "Why did you do it?" - "What made you Twirl?" Like what made you play basketball?
Baton Twirling Project: How do you answer that?
John Mitchell: I get it. A guy Twirler. That’s normally the one they ask me. The other one would be, "Oh, Twirling still exists?"
Baton Twirling Project: What’s next for you in 2019?
John Mitchell: 2019, we’re going to cross our fingers, I’m just putting it out in the universe. A television show. Working for four years. We are doing a lot as far a pitching and what not in the different networks. so... to be coming soon with all fingers crossed.
Also making this Twirling to Fight Cancer something that is now able to step into more platform that can handle a national business conversation. Twirling to Fight Cancer is local non-profit through the business side of the house.
Once we get there, we can put Twirling to Fight Cancer on Amazon. We have all those other options. As sexy and as easy at it seems, you gotta really make sure you have that business strong.
The money has just gone to Susan G Komen, and it’s been launched under Susan G Komen for all the other reasons I just said, but we can handle it now. Then we are going to be working towards being able to handle it and make it to become a national non-profit. It just needs sponsors and all of that. I really feel like that’s going to be able to happen. So more to come, you know what I mean, but 2019 let’s drop the ball.
Baton Twirling Project: What do you hope for Baton Twirling?
John Mitchell: The social media, I’ve realized from my own discovery of me even trying to pitch myself, we are very shy, safe with not also wanting to expose. We have a lot to share. We could really become strategic on what we wanted to share. From the Collegiate Championships, to the Miss Majorette of Americas, to the Grand National Champions, just those 3 platforms alone, there is nothing done, there’s nothing created, there is nothing that makes these titles more than just what I call an empty title.
Did it mean something to mean when I won? Absolutely. I won’t anchor it into something that’s just an empty title because it’s been something in my own spirit that no one can give. There was something internally from just working hard, dedicating, having focus and having fun, which is my motto for my kids, they have to recite that. "No one is perfect, but I have to try to be the best Baton Twirler I can be through hard work, dedication, focus, and having fun, and that is what it takes to be the best that I can be."
Once you’ve won, now what do you do with the platform? We prepare our girls to be able to model so well and to do interview. Where are we making them speak? They’re not at a professional basketball game, they’re not at the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders audition bootcamps to say I’m Miss Majorette of America. We could do different things. We have no real established outlet, other than USTA that allows the age limit to not matter, but we have no professional outlet for the athletes either.
Baton Twirling Project: I agree!
John Mitchell: Instead of talking about the ones that can still do it, but happen to be about 30 or so, how about let's talk about how we can get a professional outlet so they can become a Professional Baton Twirler and compete from a professional side of the house. Just think forward. I guess that would be the hope, that we could just continue to work and think forward. Be open to new ideas and support each other.
Baton Twirling Project: John it has been phenomenal speaking with you.
John Mitchell: Thank you!
Baton Twirling Project: Thank you so much for coming on! This has been so amazing.
Sara Interviewing John for the Baton Twirling Podcast