Born to Twirl
Ireland Jones Is a Baton Twirling National Champion Who Is Just Getting Started
Ten years ago, when Ireland Jones first approached her mom, Amy, to ask if she could take baton twirling lessons, Amy was hesitant.
“I twirled when I was younger, and it’s hard and stressful,” says Amy, who learned the skill from her mother.
Ireland, four years old at the time, was unrelenting, and Amy finally surrendered.
“After just one lesson she came home twirling the baton, and I thought, ‘Oh, here we go,’” Amy says.
Ireland, now a freshman at Carmel High School, entered her first contest at age five at the Indiana State Fair. It was immediately evident that Ireland had not only innate talent, but also a spark of something special that certain athletes possess. It’s that spark that pushes them to keep going even in the face of defeat, difficulty, frustration and fatigue. During such times, Amy reminds her daughter that difficult times, whether at school, at work, in sports, or in life, make us stronger.
“Struggle and pain cause us to grow and become better people,” Amy says.
Amy is proud of her daughter for having such a kind, honest, loving, and generous heart.
Through the years Ireland has competed at the Twirling Unlimited nationals, the United States Twirling Association nationals, and the National Baton Twirling Association (NBTA) competition. Each year she participates in the NBTA annual competition, which takes place in July at the University of Notre Dame. Competitions are divided into several categories – novice, beginner, intermediate, advanced and elite. Now 14, Ireland competes in the elite category.
“When you move up, the quality of twirling is higher and the kids are doing harder tricks,” Amy says.
Ireland is prepared, however, as she has been coached by Dale White, widely regarded as the best baton twirling coach in the United States. Even though he lives in Dayton, Ohio, he makes the two-hour drive to Indiana once per month to train Ireland and her 10-year-old sister Vayda. Ireland also works with Louisville-based coach Steffany Lien. Amy’s mother, a nationally known judge, also consults on technical matters.
“I’ll say to Ireland, ‘Just catch it,’ whereas mom will break it down and say, ‘The reason you’re not catching it is because your elbow is out,’” Amy says.
Becoming a great baton twirler requires discipline, daily practice, and a certain amount of fearlessness.
“You can’t have fear in baton twirling because you have this metal rod, or three of them, above your head, and you can’t think about if you drop them – you’ll have a concussion or broken nose,” says Amy, who typically asks Ireland to state her goal for each day.
“This sport requires hours of practice, hard work and of course dedication,” Ireland adds. “My mom always tells me, choose the challenge, own the challenge and overcome and master the challenge. You have to want to win.”
Amy maintains that a focused work ethic, combined with talent, can make a person unstoppable.
“With baton twirling, once you’ve conquered one trick, you move onto something harder – maybe adding a spin or another baton,” Amy says. “The key is to break down a trick into small parts so it’s not so scary. When you can get each little part, then you put it together.”
Last year Ireland won nationals in her division, making her the top 14-year-old twirler in the U.S.
“Winning Nationals for solo and 2-baton at the age of 14 means the world to me,” Ireland says. “I honestly had never been to that particular contest, so I was just there to have a fun experience. Who knew I would become the National champion? I am filled with gratitude towards the contest directors, Coach White, who believed in me, and of course my family and friends who always supports me. My hope is to be a part of twirling in some way that will fulfill other little girls dreams.”
One of the reasons Ireland loves twirling so much is because it makes her unique. In fact, she’s the only person at her high school who does it. Her style of twirling is also unique in that she seems to make it all look somewhat effortless.
“She spins like a top – like a little tornado,” Amy says.
In fact, Ireland spins so fast that judges can have a hard time counting her spins. Currently, the world record for spins is held by a 40-year-old twirler who can complete nine spins. Ireland can already do seven at age 14.
When she’s not spinning or twirling, Ireland enjoys drawing, painting, making ceramics and playing piano. She also hopes to participate in a triathlon with her mom and sister, for which one participant will swim, one will bike and one will run.
The foundation of Ireland’s being, however, resides not in her talent but in her deep Christian faith. She recites the same prayer each time she twirls: “God is good all the time. All the time, God is good.”
“For Ireland, everything else come after Christ,” says Amy, noting that her favorite bible passage is Romans 8:28.
This summer Ireland was set to compete again at nationals, but the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19. Still, she seeks to continue her journey with the goal of getting an invitation to join the U.S. world team, which travels to places like Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Whatever happens, Ireland is just thrilled to be performing.
“Being able to represent this unique sport is really an honor,” Ireland says. “I have met so many wonderful people and have been a part of so many great things because of my baton career. I don’t think my life would be the same without it.”
“Honestly, the baton is like an extension of her arm,” Amy adds. “She was born to twirl.”