Her toes pointed, a smile on her face, Ally Grooms tosses and catches a spinning bar that seamlessly connects the choreography she’d perfected months ago.
It’s a Wednesday afternoon, and the sun is beating down on the Clover High School auxiliary field that the school’s color guard squad practices on. The field is flanked with dozens of students; those with flags frame the edges of the field, encircling the others tasked with performing with rifles and sabres.
And then, alone in the middle of the field, there’s Grooms: She’s the sole baton twirler at Clover, one of the few high school majorettes in all of South Carolina — and one of the best twirlers for her age in the world.
Yes, the world.
Last year, Grooms, 16, competed at a national competition put on by the United States Twirling Association and placed in the top-3 for her age. Her placement qualified her for a marquee international competition in France that featured twirlers from 19 countries.
In that competition — known as the World Baton Twirling Federation International Cup — she brought home a silver medal in the two-baton individual event and finished in seventh place on a team of twirlers from Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama.
Grooms, originally from Jesup, Ga., started twirling when she was 6 years old, after being introduced to the sport after a dance class one day. The sport was popular in her hometown; many of her friends, in fact, started twirling with her around the same time she picked the sport up.
“Most schools up here don’t have baton twirlers,” Grooms said. “But I like it up here because it’s cool and unique. Everyone is really fascinated with it. When I twirl at football games, everyone gets really excited because they’re not used to seeing it.”
She fell in love with the sport, and she stuck with it. Grooms, now a junior, moved to the area a few years ago and was quickly embraced by Clover’s color guard team. Before long, too, she became a point of interest on Friday nights — her baton twirling is now a part of Clover’s football tradition.
“I was actually on Facebook the other day, and I found a video of me twirling at the past football game,” Grooms said. “And I didn’t even know who posted it, so I was like, ‘That’s so cool,’ because a lot of people are fascinated with it.
“A lot of the kids, actually, when I’m warming up behind the bleachers come up and talk to me and ask me so many questions, and it’s super cute.”
Grooms said she competes individually for most of the year, and that the bulk of this year’s twirling season starts in February.
“It was really cool when she transferred in,” said Todd Winder, Clover’s color guard director. “It’s very uncommon now to have majorettes at color guard at a high school, but when she came in, we thought of a way to incorporate her into our productions…
“It just adds an extra part of marching band that you’ll see a lot with colleges, but just not in high school.”
Baton twirling is a sport that began as a sort of artistic expression in parts of Europe and Asia. The pastime has a rich history in the U.S. that stems back centuries and is particularly prominent in Southern culture. It seems to require an athletic flair — a finesse that results from having a constellation of skills from other sports like it.
“Baton twirling requires a lot of dance and gymnastics,” Grooms said, “so being an all-around good dancer and gymnast and having good hand-eye coordination skills really help with baton twirling.”
As the band director gave orders to his members at Wednesday’s practice, tapping a cowbell-sort-of-instrument to help his team keep a beat, Grooms continued through her motions — at least to the untrained set of eyes — without a hitch.
She’d spend the rest of her practice doing what she’d already done so many times before: cycling through a complex routine that she made seem compulsory; and proving how, in many ways, she’s in a class of her own.