Anna Mitchell Ralston is just like your average 12-year-old, except for one little thing. She’s one of the best baton twirlers in the nation.
And the Gainesville Middle School seventh-grader relishes that fact.
“I think it’s cool to be different than everybody else, because not a lot of people do it,” the tween said.
In July, Anna Mitchell traveled to Indiana to compete against other girls in the Youth on Parade twirling championships. Once there, she captured the title every young girl coveted — Pre-teen Intermediate pageant winner.
“It’s not really a pageant,” Anna Mitchell’s mother Lisa Ralston said. “It’s more like a twirling competition.”
Anna Mitchell’s current title is the highest rank any baton twirler her age and skill level can achieve. She beat 34 other competitors, who won their own state and regional titles, to lay claim to it.
But the young girl reveled in more than her award. She appreciated her fellow competitors as well as their cultures and made friends along the way.
“It’s fun to get to see all these different people from around the world,” Anna Mitchell said.
To compete at the national level, Anna Mitchell first had to win Miss Majorette of Georgia. She did in the summer.
At the July competition in Indiana, Anna Mitchell performed two twirling routines, a walk and an interview. She placed in the top 10 in each individual event, but it required hard work and countless hours of practice.
“It’s like our sport, just like somebody will play football,” Lisa Ralston said. “It’s like her thing.”
And baton twirling is more complicated and time-consuming than it seems. The sport is divided into four difficulty ranges, including novice, beginner, intermediate and advanced.
With the intermediate title beside her name, Anna Mitchell will now progress to the advanced difficulty this year. The rise to advance will require Anna Mitchell to add 10 seconds in her baton twirling routine.
She also may have to switch to a longer baton. Anna Mitchell uses a 26-inch baton, which is no longer than the length of her arm. But if her fingers go past the baton, she will have to get a new one.
“She can probably use them for the rest of this year. It’s just like buying football equipment,” Ralston said, meaning as children grow, they need equipment to suit their needs.
Anna Mitchell doesn’t seem fazed by the changes, and for good reason.
At 5 years old, she began baton twirling lessons. She didn’t compete until she qualified as a novice, but she’s been competing for most of her life.
Anna Mitchell said she doesn’t really get nervous anymore before competitions.
“I’m pretty much used to it,” she said.
A typical routine for Anna Mitchell includes some combination of strut, solo, two-baton and duet sections. In the strut routine, she must complete five “legs” and follow an “X” shape throughout it. But not every routine uses each section.
Strut is the dance portion of a routine, which demonstrates the athlete’s flexibility and control of the baton in the hand. It is one of Anna Mitchell’s favorites.
“I love to dance and strut has a dance aspect to it,” Anna Mitchell said.
The solo section is for special moves such as a fishtail or a neck roll.
“You can do tricks,” Anna Mitchell said.
In a two-baton routine, the twirler uses two batons instead of one, but it’s similar to a solo.
“It’s just like solo, but you have an extra baton,” Anna Mitchell said.
In a duet, another twirler joins the routine. Anna Mitchell prefers the duet section, because she likes dancing with another person, especially her best friend, Jessica Morlan of Thomson. Jessica, 9, holds the title of Juvenile Miss Majorette of America.
“I really love my partner, and I’ve known her for a long time,” she said. “It’s fun to get to twirl with just you and your best friend.”
Anna Mitchell mostly practices on her own, four or five days a week for an hour each day. She sporadically meets with her coach, Colleen Murphy.
“She’s really helped me a lot,” Anna Mitchell said.
She also meets with her six-member team in Atlanta on some weekends.
“This is our first year,” Ralston said. “You’ll go to competitions and compete on a team level.”
When she isn’t tied to baton practices, she takes dance classes three times a week and reserves her Saturdays for gymnastics.
While she keeps herself busy, the positives outweigh the negatives.
“She’s made so many friends,” Lisa Ralston said.
Even with her extracurricular activities, Anna Mitchell maintains good grades.
Anna Mitchell plans to continue twirling throughout middle and high school and into college. Championships allow competitors up to the college-age level.
“It’s a really fun sport,” she said.