Twirling her way to success

Only baton twirler for marching band got her start early as a child in Port Angeles, will continue university career with Air Force ROTC

RACHEL KOCH, Evergreen reporter

This most recent football season, baton twirler Selah Johnson stood out in every halftime show. As the only baton twirler for the Cougar Marching Band, Johnson first picked up a baton around thirteen years ago as a child living in Port Angeles, she said.

“I grew up in a small town and there wasn’t really anything around, but we had a parade,” Johnson said.


She once saw twirlers in the parade from a local recreational team and told her mother that she wanted to try it, she said.

Johnson began twirling with the recreational team for a few months before switching to private coaching to further hone her skills, she said.

“My mom wanted to see if I could do more with it,” Johnson said. “She reached out to a lot of different coaches that were around Washington.”

Johnson eventually settled on Kathy Forsythe, a coach from Seattle. Later, as a sophomore in high school, Johnson received an invitation to join Revolution Edge, an international-level team based in Sacramento, Calif. she said. She flew to Sacramento to audition and made it on the team.

At a national championship competition that same year, Johnson participated in International Cup Tryouts, which is part of the United States Twirling Association, she said.

This meant that she had the opportunity to participate in a worldwide competition in Croatia.

“They only take the top six people in the nation,” Johnson said.

She made it into the international competition again two years later, she said. However, she did not participate because it conflicted with the WSU fall semester schedule.

Now, she has reached her goal of performing at the collegiate level.

“Performing at a college is the biggest thing that a twirler can do,” Johnson said. “That’s the end goal for everybody, but not everybody gets that because there are [limited] positions.”

This past fall was Johnson’s first semester performing with the Cougar Marching Band, and it’s been her favorite experience with twirling so far, she said.

“Selah is fantastic to work with,” Troy Bennefield, Athletic Bands director, said. “Part of being a twirler is you have to be, to use a buzzword, a self-starter.”

Johnson choreographs her own routines, beginning as early as a month or as late as a week before the show, Bennefield said.

Johnson’s favorite memories with the Cougar Marching Band took place performing, she said.

“It’s been such a supportive, loving, great, awesome experience for me,” she said.

Johnson encourages those who want to try twirling, she said. However, she urges them to be careful, especially toward the beginning.

“I have been twirling for a long time,” she said. “It does take a while to start up and to understand, but do whatever you want and go for it.”

Johnson herself has faced many injuries over the years, she said.

“My front right tooth is actually fake because I hit it out with a baton,” she said. “I’ve [also] broken several fingers, so I grew up kind of afraid of it.”

However, the fear did not last, and Johnson began to find her purpose in twirling, she said.

“Once I learned that I could express myself through it, I really fell in love with it,” she said. “It was my one outlet to really express my true emotions.”

This fall, Johnson has also joined the Air Force ROTC program.

“It helps me stay focused,” Johnson said. “It keeps me on a strict schedule, and that’s good for me.”

Johnson joined AFROTC because her father suggested it during orientation, she said.

Capt. Spencer Sweat is an assistant professor with the AFROTC programs at WSU, University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston.

Sweat is heavily involved in setting up recruitment events, such as the one at the Alive Orientation last summer when Johnson and her father first learned about the WSU AFROTC program and what it has to offer, he said.

One of the most important skills that cadets must have is the ability to accept failure and persevere, Sweat said.

“Discipline is this really big word that you would associate with the military, but nobody comes in being the most disciplined,” he said.

In order to succeed, cadets must also be excited about the program, Sweat said.

“There’s nothing more frustrating than someone who comes to the program because somebody else says that they should do it,” he said. “I want people with open minds, and in the end, not everybody’s going to stick it out for all four years.”

In the end, Johnson said she is glad that her father gave her the idea.

“I love the structure of it, I love the team part of it and I love how it pushes you to be a leader,” she said.

Johnson currently plans on staying with the AFROTC program and hopes to go into the Air Force after she graduates, she said.

Freshman and WSU Feature Twirler, Selah Johnson, talks about her experience at WSU being apart of ROTC as well as her journey with color gaurd and twirling on Jan. 15 in the CUB.