IOWA CITY – When the time came for University of Iowa Golden Girl Chelsea Russell to pass the baton – literally – she had no trouble handing it to Whittney Seckar-Anderson.
Russell first met Seckar-Anderson at a competition. Seckar-Anderson was six years old.
“She was performing with her twirling team and they were doing a ‘Batman’ routine. Whittney was playing air guitar, having so much fun with her gold curls bouncing. I remember thinking, ‘That girl is going to be a star,’” Russell says.
Make that a gold star.
Seckar-Anderson was named the new UI Golden Girl earlier this year. The freshman learned of her new title after an audition process that included a video and live performance.
Three twirlers made the final round of competition, performing in front of 11 judges in February.
“The tryout was probably the most nerve-racking thing of my entire life,” Seckar-Anderson, 19, says. “This was more than a competition, this was my future. This was possibly the next 4 or 5 years of my life.”
She didn’t need to worry. The judges chose Seckar-Anderson in a unanimous decision.
“She just has that sparkle,” Russell says.
It’s fair to say Seckar-Anderson was born to twirl. Her mother, Julie, is the owner of Julie’s Touch of Silver Dance Studio in Oshkosh-Wisc. She also twirled at Mississippi.
Seckar-Anderson’s older sister, Lacey, was a featured twirler at Michigan State.
“I was probably two or three when my mom first put a baton in my hands,” Seckar-Anderson says.
She says it was longer before she knew what to do with it, but soon Seckar-Anderson was making a name for herself in the twirling world, eventually earning the 2011 Teenage Miss Majorette of America title -- the highest honor awarded at the National Championships of Twirling.
Twirling for a Big Ten university, however, was Seckar-Anderson’s ultimate goal.
“In the twirling world, after so much work, this was the payoff,” the Oshkosh-Wisc. native says.
Two Big Ten schools that feature twirlers had openings this year: Iowa and Michigan State. Seckar-Anderson set her sights on Iowa, even seeking out Russell at a competition to the spring of 2011 to talk to her about the position.
“It was funny because I did the same thing five years earlier with (former UI Golden Girl) Diana Reed,” Russell says.
As the Golden Girl, Seckar-Anderson practices with the UI Marching Band for nearly two hours Tuesday through Friday. She performs in the pre-game show, as well as the halftime performance of all Iowa home football games.
Seckar-Anderson also teaches baton-twirling classes at the Field House through UI Recreational Services, continuing the program created by Reed, balancing this commitment with her classes and personal baton practice. She isn’t nervous, though. Competitive twirling requires a strong work ethic.
“There’s never really an off-season in twirling,” she says.
Case in point: two months after being named the UI Golden Girl, Seckar-Anderson was in Switzerland for the 2012 World Baton Twirling Championships, where she competed in individual and team performances, winning bronze and gold respectively. Seckar-Anderson traveled to Ohio in July for the 2012 National Championships of Twirling to give a farewell performance as the reigning Teenage Miss Majorette of America.
“I was home for a few weeks and then I moved to Iowa City for band camp,” Seckar-Anderson says.
With three football games behind her, Seckar-Anderson says she’s getting comfortable in her new role.
“I would just like to be seen as a positive role model to students and, hopefully, inspire kids to reach for their dreams and never give up,” she says.
Russell, who is currently working with the UI Marching Band as an advisor to the Golden Girl and drum major while finishing her graduate degree, says watching Seckar-Anderson on the field reminds her of her early days as the Golden Girl.“Looking at Whittney’s face during her first home game performance, I definitely saw myself,” she says. “She had that combination of terrified excitement, but she handled herself like a pro. I can’t wait to see how she grows into this new role, how it will change her and what she will do with it.”