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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Melanie Bowling: A Twirler’s Spirit for Life

Melanie Bowling, the feature twirler for William & Mary, absolutely adores what she does (Melanie Bowling)

WILLIAMSBURG — Four-year-old Melanie Bowling was thrown into the world of baton twirling. Bowling’s mother and grandmother were both twirlers, so it was only natural that Melanie would get involved. After crashing many practices at her mom’s recreational facility, Bowling’s mother signed her up for lessons and Melanie never looked back.

Twirling competitively throughout elementary, middle and high school, Bowling knew from a very early age that she wanted to be a majorette in college. When it came time for applications, Bowling had her heart set on attending the University of Virginia. Her cousin, the cheerleading coach at William & Mary, encouraged a visit to the campus. After that visit, it was Bowling’s condition that in order to attend the school, she needed to have the opportunity to twirl.

“I twirled with my high school band and I knew I wanted to twirl in college. Most people have a tryout where you have to submit videos from band season and competitions, but due to COVID-19 the submission process was a bit different. I didn’t intend on coming to William & Mary ,but I came and visited and I absolutely fell in love with the school when I came here. My condition was that I needed to twirl. That had been my dream since I was a little girl and I needed that condition met,” Bowling said.

Bowling’s cousin made her dream come true and she took the Zable Stadium field for her first game during the 2021 football season.

Seen frequently on the sidelines at Zable Stadium and Kaplan Arena, Bowling twirls with a huge smile on her face. The sophomore still feels the same joy as when she picked up the baton at four years old. While game days can be long and draining, she is fueled with the passion and drive to be the best twirler she can be.

Twirling before a game at Zable Stadium (Melanie Bowling)

“I’m doing this for myself and it’s fun for me. I get to put on a show for the crowd. I’m always anxious and excited before a game because I get to show people what I can do and how hard I work. This is truly my element and I’m doing what I know how to do,” Bowling said.

Since twirling is such a niche sport, Bowling is the sole twirler associated with the college. But according to her, being the only twirler is no problem — the work is worth it.

“The glitz and glam aspect draws a lot of people to the sport but they don’t realize how much time outside of game day that it takes to do this sport. I always try to bring something new to the sidelines during each game so it takes hours of practice and rehearsal,” Bowling said.

Her infectious energy rubbed off on one little girl in the crowd.

“I never really realized how much attention twirling drew until coming to William & Mary and having people come up to me after the games. I really got to see a different aspect of twirling by being on the sidelines and not twirling with a band or during a halftime show. I was approached by a mom who told me that her daughter wanted to start twirling and at one of the games, that little girl brought a baton and she twirled with me during the third quarter. It’s those special moments that I wouldn’t have had if I was doing another sport,” Bowling said.

Melanie and Hope perform together at a William & Mary home football game (Melanie Bowling)

Bowling teaches Hope the basic twirler moves once a week. It’s a chance to look back and see how far she has come and inspire the next generation of twirlers.

“It’s really special to have that connection with Hope and her family. She is such a persistent little girl and she’s come a long way in the short amount of time that I’ve worked with her. She reminds me so much of myself and why I started,” Bowling shared.

In December of 2021, Bowling was chosen as the National Collegiate FANtastic Feature Twirler challenge. Involved in the application process were video submissions, an interview with judges, and a personal statement about why twirling is an important part of her life. When she was declared the winner, she was not expecting it.

“I was ecstatic because I was really not expecting it. It was really cool to be able to represent William & Mary on the national level,” Bowling said.

According to Bowling, there are so many physical tricks that twirling has taught her, but it’s the mental toughness and skills for life that are the most beneficial.

“This sport has taught me so much but it’s made me a better person overall. I’ve learned how to be more well-rounded, how to have conversations with people, what it means to be well put together, time management. It’s really led me toward a profound love for the sport in general and an appreciation for all sports and how much work it takes to be at your absolute best,” Bowling said.

Since twirling is a family affair in the Bowling household, it’s no surprise that Bowling’s greatest inspirations are her mother and grandmother. According to Bowling, she couldn’t do it without their support.

On the 50 yard line at Zable Stadium (Melanie Bowling)

“They have always been my biggest supporters. My mom was the one to sit in the gym with me for five to six hours to watch me practice. Sometimes having your mom as your coach is hard. My mom and grandma can be my harshest critics but they are always my biggest fans. They never miss a competition or game. To be able to share my college twirling experience with them is something I will never forget,” Bowling said.

As for her time with Hope and any other kids out there who want to twirl, Bowling encourages them to just try it out.

“Don’t get frustrated. I think that it’s one of those things where people see me do it and they don’t know that I’ve been doing it for sixteen years. They think that they can just instantly do what I do. There’s a lot that leads up to it but if you work really hard, you can get where I am one day,” Bowling said.

Bowling will be back on the sidelines at Zable in the fall of 2023 to kick off her junior year. The first William & Mary home football game is scheduled for September 9 at 6 p.m. against Wofford College.

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