On any given Saturday during this fall's football season, 60,000 pairs of eyes will be watching the halftime show at the University of Mississippi's Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss.
And in the center of the field, marching, jumping and cartwheeling separately from the band, will be Gainesville High School graduate Luci Bueter.
Bueter, a majorette for GHS until her graduation in 2006, has spent the last few years gathering regional and national awards for her baton twirling. She was named Miss Majorette of Georgia and placed eighth in the Miss Majorette of America in 2006, and she was awarded the title of Miss Majorette of the Southeast in 2007. This week, she'll be competing again at the National Baton Twirling Association's national championships in South Bend, Ind. Then she heads to Detroit, Mich., for the Junior Olympics.
But the competitions are only part of the fun, Bueter said. In competitions you're timed and points are deducted every time you drop the baton. Out on the field, no matter how many people are in the stadium, it's all about doing a bigger, showier trick, she said.
"Field twirling, you want to do a lot of big, showy tricks and you don't have to go as fast. It's a big deal if you drop, but not that big of a deal," she said. "When I'm on the field and I drop my baton, I'm like, ‘Oh well,' and I pick it back up and do something bigger.
"So it's not as much pressure to me. Some people, I'm sure, feel differently."
But whatever you do, don't confuse majorettes (groups of four or five baton twirlers who move together in unison) or feature twirlers (one girl doing her own routine on the football field) with cheerleaders.
"A lot of people think twirling is cheerleading with a stick, but it's a lot more dance, and it's a lot of physics, because you have to realize how to control the baton with your body and you have to know the speed of the baton, you have to know how fast to throw your body - it's just a lot of stuff," Bueter said.
Bueter said she got into twirling simply because her mother, Susan Bueter, had done it in high school and college. She was even feature twirler at Georgia Tech and taught for a little while after college, Bueter said.
And although she started taking baton twirling lessons in elementary school, Bueter said she didn't realize the benefits of the sport until she started thinking about college - and how much she could save by getting a scholarship for her twirling.
Her longtime instructor, Betty Rogers, said because Bueter grew up twirling on football fields around Northeast Georgia as part of the Northeast Georgia Stars, she's better prepared to now twirl for a college in the Southeast with a storied football history.
And Rogers added that there's no comparison between winning a national championship in baton twirling and being a feature twirler at an SEC college.
"It's one of the best positions in twirling," said Rogers, who teaches a summer baton camp through Gainesville's Parks and Recreation Department and coaches her own group, North Georgia Stars, made up of girls from different counties who perform at area football games.
"It's one of those established positions that goes back for decades, and I know what I speak - I was feature twirler at Ole Miss."
Although, Ole Miss wasn't the first college where Bueter twirled. She began at Clemson, where she was recruited straight from a twirling competition in 2006. But a cartwheel gone wrong during the Clemson-Florida State game derailed her freshman year, barely halfway into the football season.
"I did an allusion, which is kind of like a cartwheel with one foot on the ground, and I slammed my foot down and I put weight on it, and instead of bending this way it bent like this," she said, holding her hands at a right angle. "It was terrible; it was in front of the Florida stadium, and I fell, and everyone's like ‘Ooh,' making fun of me or whatever, which is funny because it's like 90-something thousand students. ... And then I got up and I used my baton to kind of crutch off the field, and they all started clapping. It was awesome, but at the same time it was terrible."
Bueter tore her ACL and meniscus, among other knee injuries, and spent the next few months recuperating. By the spring of 2007, she was able to try out for the University of Mississippi and Georgia Southern University. Ole Miss' offer of feature twirler, along with a partial scholarship, was too good to pass up, she said.
"I get to pick my own costume, make up my own routines; I get to go wherever I want on the field - I'm all by myself," she said of her position at Ole Miss. "It's kind of a better deal."
It's fun to be involved in such a unique sport, Bueter said. Many people do a sport, but not many can say they twirl a baton.
Plus, with some activities, such as dancing or football, your talents are limited to your body's physical abilities.
Not so with twirling, Bueter said.
"If you work hard enough, you can just keep getting better and better," she said. "There's always a bigger trick and there's always a better twirl, and there's always a faster speed. There's no limitation on how far you can go with it."