Twirling: batons spinning through the air, passed from one twirler to another as they run across the field. But to Marching Virginians senior Connor Rudd, twirling is something else.
“[To me,] twirling means the ability to interact with a wide variety of people, all connected by the same talent - that’s twirling. You get people from all over the world...and they can all connect through this one thing.”
-Connor Rudd, Marching Virginians Feature Twirler
Connor started twirling 15 years ago, at the age of 5. He watched color guard spin rifles in a parade and spun pool noodles at home. His mother scoured the internet and found twirling - a primarily collegiate activity - and helped keep him stay motivated until he reached college.
In high school, Connor was on the football team - until he realized that he could be injured to a point where he wouldn’t be able to twirl. For the first time, there was also a new element: the fear of being made fun of. Twirling was seen as feminine, with thousands of girls competing, while football was more ‘manly’. But as he matured, he found that it was more important to do what he loved and to show people his passion.
Connor also twirled competitively. In 2017, he represented the United States in the Grand Prix in Poreč, Croatia. “It’s a lot of pressure. You prepare your whole life, but you’re going to tell yourself no matter what that you’re not prepared.” He placed 3rd in two-baton and 7th in the solo category at the international competition.
Connor came to Tech for the veterinary science program. Graduating from Tech with a degree in Dairy Science gives him his best chance of becoming a veterinarian.
Virginia Tech also allowed Connor to twirl on-field. Two years ago, he sent an audition tape to Dave McKee, former director of the Marching Virginians, showing that he could twirl with one, two, or three batons - whatever McKee was looking for. Dave brought him in for a live audition and, shortly after, welcomed him to the band. This year by feature twirler, Meredith Smith. Together, they choreograph their work for each show. But what sets Tech apart? Unlike other colleges, the twirlers can go anywhere on the field.
“You can go wherever you want,” says Connor. “It’s free reign, and that’s what I love. It’s so different; it’s very liberating.”
Game days are a day unlike any other - the best days of the semester, according to Connor. Performing in Lane with Hokies all around you is an incredible experience. And his favorite memory of twirling at Tech: his first time twirling with the Marching Virginians at Fedex Field. “It was just so incredible to see it all put together, because you imagine it for so long, and then you finally see it all together on the field.” On the other hand, being on field can be nerve-wracking. For the marchers, it’s easy to blend in as one of 330. But the twirlers are, after all, feature twirlers.
“You just look up, focus on nothing, and think about your twirling. Don’t look at the crowd’s faces, because you’ll get freaked out - but I think there’s like 66,000 people. You don’t think about it. Try not to.”
In the baton world, twirlers usually don’t continue after college - once you’ve reached your peak, it’s time to let someone else have a chance. “After 15 years, you know, you get kind of tired of it,” noted Connor. “I’ve been to Worlds. I’m not the type of person who wants to win every year. I win once; I’m done. I made my mark, I proved that I could do it, I don’t need to prove it again and again.”
And to future twirlers, Connor has a message:
“Be yourself. Don’t try to follow in the footsteps of other Virginia Tech twirlers. Try to increase your skill, increase everything, increase your showmanship. Interact with all the band members, don’t be secluded to your own little area - just make it your own. I think that’s the best advice I can give.”