Macon-based baton twirler to compete nationally

In a trick that Hannah Johstono calls the “Big Monster Roll,” she spins a baton up and around her shoulders until it makes a full circle.

Like the skills she practices, Johstono is preparing for something big -- arguably the biggest event in her 14 years of baton twirling.

The 22-year-old will be vying for the National Collegiate Twirling Title at a weeklong competition July 20–25 at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

“In the past I was more nervous than anything, but now I’m just taking the advantage of being able to have fun and compete,” Johstono said. “Because this will probably be one of my last competitions.”

A current fifth-year elementary education major at Austin Peay State University in Clarkesville, Tennessee, Johstono performs as the feature twirler for the Governor’s Own Marching Band.

The alumna of Central High School in Macon won the title of “Miss College Twirler of Tennessee” at the Tennessee State Twirling Championships in mid-May.

Before the state competition, she had been on a five-year hiatus from competing.

Coincidentally, the opportunity to jump back into competitions fell into Johstono’s lap. She replied to an email from former Austin Peay feature twirler Margie Beasley about last month’s state competition and decided her chance had arrived sooner than expected. It was certainly a risk, she said, but one she was willing to take.

Without a coach and with the state competition a month away, Johstono made up one of her routines in a week and a half.

“I told (Beasley) even before that I honestly don’t know how I’m going to do, and if I happen to win or get runner-up, I’ll go to Notre Dame and represent the state,” Johstono said.

To prepare for the national competition, Johstono exercises and practices her routines four times a week. At least once a week, she travels to Alabama or Tennessee to get advice from one of her three coaches.

Thursday she will be visiting Amber Hanel, her coach who lives in Auburn, Alabama. Hanel is the daughter of her Macon coach, Cindy Rhyne. Both of those coaches will be among the judges in the national championship.

The national competition scores will come from three categories: a strut, a solo and a modeling routine. The strut involves more leaps, lunges and posing, Johstono said. The difficult baton twirls and rolls and spins are packaged in the solo performance, and Johstono described the modeling routine like a pageant with an interview portion at the end.

Her mother, who is her No. 1 fan, will be traveling to Notre Dame with her.

During the school year, Johstono functions as her own coach and creates her own choreography, said John Schnettler, Austin Peay’s band director.

Schnettler said Johstono’s performance is one of the most popular parts of the marching band, especially when she spins fire batons.

“It’s pretty amazing that one person out of (a marching band of) 170 can create so much energy through the crowd,” Schnettler said of Johstono.

For her part, Johstono said she loves showcasing her talent.

“It’s like an art,” she said.

Johstono said she would love to one day coach baton twirling, but first, she plans on applying to teaching jobs across the Southeast and wants to keep her options open.

“I want to be that person to put on a show and make people smile and wow everybody, especially during football season,” Johstono said.

To contact writer Conner Wood, call 744-4489.