The University of South Carolina’s Marching Band performs for over 85,000 cheering fans every game day. Attend any home game and you will see Whitney Whittaker, one of two feature twirlers for the USC “Mighty Sound of the Southeast” Marching Band.
Whittaker has been twirling for 18 years, four of which she has spent featured for the USC Marching Band along with twirler Tricia Daniels. The 300 member marching band is under the direction of James Copenhaver and David O’Sheields. Whittaker twirls the entire show performing self-choreographed routines incorporating dance and gymnastic movements.
Whittaker shares details of her experience twirling for the USC Marching Band with TwirlZone readers:
TwirlZone: Describe a typical practice with the Band? Whittaker: I begin by stretching and warming up during “sectionals”. For the remainder of practice the band works on drill for a new show, practices the current show or practices the pre-game show. During this time I practice my routines and drill. At the closing of every practice we sing the alma mater.
TwirlZone: Do you twirl 2 & 3 batons? Other novelties? Whittaker: I usually incorporate as much as I can. I twirl 1, 2, 3 and 4 batons. During night games, I use 2 light stick batons. I also twirl 1 and 2 fire batons at every game.
TwirlZone: What twirling trick is the most crowd pleasing? Whittaker: No matter the trick, as long as I toss the baton high, everyone one gets excited. I would have to say that I get the most compliments on the “necky” thing as a lot of Gamecock fans like to call it. These are known as “back neck rolls”. I also get a lot of compliments on twirling fire.
TwirlZone: Does your university provide a scholarship for taking part in the marching band? Whittaker: There is a marching band scholarship offered to the feature twirlers.
TwirlZone: How many hours a week do you practice and work with the Band? Whittaker: We practice two and a half hours, three days a week as well as a practice before each game on Saturdays which usually lasts about 2 hours. I also practice at the gym in supplement of these times.
TwirlZone: Describe a typical football game day: Whittaker: We begin the day with a two hour practice, where we run the show and pre-game. We then march into the stadium while playing the fight song. Tailgating fans love when we pass by. We then sit in the stands and play some tunes to pump up the crowd. Pre-game starts at 19 minutes before the game. We play many songs including the fight song, National Anthem, and alma mater. We spell out Carolina and Gamecocks with each member of the band. At the closing of pregame we reveal “Cocky” our mascot and the team runs onto the field through a tunnel formed by band members.
Halftime consists of about 4 songs. I twirl the entire show and fire batons for one song.
Post game consists of us playing many songs while the crowd is exiting the stadium and we always end the evening with “Amazing Grace”. We then line up in parade formation and march out playing the fight song once again.
TwirlZone: Does your band have a new show each game day or are shows repeated? Whittaker: We usually have four shows per year. One of those is a patriotic show in which we honor those who have served or who are currently serving our country. We usually repeat each show two or three times.
TwirlZone: What is your major in college? What are your plans following college? Whittaker: Exercise Science with a concentration in Motor Development. I am currently applying to Doctor of Physical Therapy Programs and am looking forward to obtaining my degree in 3 years following my graduation in May. I will then practice pediatric Physical Therapy.
TwirlZone: What influenced you to twirl for your University? Whittaker: It has been a dream of mine to twirl at the University of South Carolina. Many former Miss Majorettes of America have featured at USC. I was honored to be chosen as a feature twirler and share the spot light with Tricia Daniels who is also a former Miss Majorette of America.
Whittaker, originally from Fredrick, Maryland, began twirling at the age of three under the instruction of Colleen Duda. Shortly after, she became a member of the Wheaton Majorettes of Rockville, Maryland and started private lessons with Ann Kennedy. Whittaker continues to take lessons from Kennedy to this day.
Whittaker is a four time Miss Majorette of America winner and is a three-time member of the NBTA United States Twirling Team. She holds more than twenty-five World and National Baton Twirling titles in solo, two-baton, three baton, strut, and duet and over one-hundred State and Regional Twirling titles. As a proud member of the Wheaton Majorettes, Whittaker has also helped the team capture more than twenty-five World and National Twirling Team titles in Dance Twirl, Twirling Teams and Twirling Corps.
Whittaker credits her coaches, parents and family in playing a major role in her successful baton twirling career. Whittaker says, “They have spent countless number of hours in the gym with me and taking me to practice and competitions. My parents also travel a roundtrip of 16 hours each weekend to come to EVERY game to watch me twirl! I undoubtedly have the most amazing coach, team, and parents!”