Competitive baton twirling has been a part of Megan Williams’ life for 16 years. She remembers being a student at Maranacook when her gym teacher told the class he would be using heart-rate monitors on them for the next half hour, and they could do whatever activity they wanted. While others played basketball, Williams asked if she could do twirling.

“He was hesitant, because he didn’t think it could get my heart rate up,” Williams said. “It was actually over the healthy rate the entire time.”

Williams and 12 other young women on the Main-E-Acts Baton Twirling Team are at the University of Notre Dame this week for the National Baton Twirling Association’s Grand National Baton Twirling Championships. The Main-E-Acts will compete in five team and several individual events.

Main-E-Acts coach Andrea Fletcher said the team alternates its practices between the parks and recreation departments in Augusta and Bangor. Most of the team members live near one of those areas, although Morgan Mayhew is from South Paris and Molly King, who grew up in Windsor, now attends the University of Maine at Farmington.

“They (all) travel a lot,” Fletcher said. “Their commitment is remarkable.”

Fletcher said it takes years for a twirler to get to the point where they can compete for the Main-E-Acts. The members of the team are as young as 12.

“They all start in a rec program each year,” Fletcher said. “I select a team to compete in a tournament. So basically, they have a year-round tryout. I’d equate it to dance or competitive gymnastics. It’s kind of a combination of both, actually.”

The Main-E-Acts were created in 2004, and this is their third appearance at nationals. Fletcher said the team did a small amount of fundraising, but many of the young women are funding the trip to Indiana themselves.

Williams, who recently graduated from the University of Maine, has competed at nationals twice. Taylor Hickey, a senior at Erskine who has been twirling for 13 years, went to nationals two years ago.

“Nationals is very, very stressful,” Hickey said. “But it’s worth every bit of it. It’s worth all the sweat and tears to get here. It’s an experience you can’t get anywhere else. There are twirlers who pull off really difficult tricks that you only dream of. That’s the motivation right there — to push yourself to be as good as them.”

A routine runs 2 1/2 to 3 minutes — similar to high school competitive cheerleading.

“It’s like a full-out sprint for three minutes,” Fletcher said. “Cardiovascularly, that’s the equivalent.”

Fletcher’s comparisons to gymnastics and sprinting are not accidental. She is adamant that twirling is, in fact, a sport.

“The girls will defend that tooth and nail, too,” Fletcher said.

Naturally, there are a lot of misconceptions. There are no parties like for the Super Bowl or office pools like with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, so outside the team’s circle, knowledge of twirling is limited.

“A lot of people think it’s just about marching and parades, and it’s definitely a lot more than that,” Fletcher said.

“It takes a lot of explaining and patience,” Hickey said. “A lot of people confuse it with dance, or what majorettes used to be — the whole cowboy boots and that type of thing. It’s definitely a very competitive, high-impact sport.”

Or, as Williams put it, “I usually just tell them to go on YouTube.”

The lack of knowledge doesn’t stop others from declaring it’s not a sport, of course.

“When I was younger, a lot of my classmates tried to tell me it’s not a sport,” Williams said. “But after you see it, there’s no way you can say it’s not.”

Williams add that twirlers also get concussions and other injuries, just like athletes in different sports.

“We actually have a girl twirling with a broken foot right now,” she said.

Even with that injury and the stressful environment of nationals, Hickey said she is “very confident” in the team’s routines.

“Last time we went, our team wasn’t as strong,” she said. “But this team, we’re all really dedicated. Last time we made top 10. This year, we’re hoping to do a little better than that.”

For Williams, this will be her last week of competition.

“There’s a ton of people who tried it for a couple years and gave it up,” she said. “But if it’s your thing, you stay. I absolutely fell in love with it.”

Other team members are Mollie Berglund and Amanda Cameron, both from West Gardiner; Alexandra Clowes, Holden; Jenna Cross, Bangor; Matteah Hamm and Meagan Sawyer, Brewer; Lindsay Pitts and Carley Scanlon, Bucksport; and Morgan Sorey, Orrington.

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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