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Majorette Festival win caps stressful week

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Taylor Freeland has been twirling since the third grade, but a weekend of tragedy almost derailed her shot at becoming Miss Kanawha Majorette.

She was in a car accident Saturday that resulted in whiplash. Her uncle died this weekend from a stroke after also being in a car accident recently. And her boyfriend shipped off Sunday to Marine basic training at Parris Island, S.C.

"Twirling helped me not focus on it," Taylor said Tuesday night from the University of Charleston Stadium at Laidley Field.

 "If I didn't twirl, I would just be sitting around thinking about it 24-7," she said.   

That focus helped the George Washington High School senior win the majorette competition Tuesday night at the 66th annual Daily Mail Kanawha County Majorette and Band Festival.

Click here for photo gallery of band performances.

She edged out Haley Ryan of Herbert Hoover High School - whose twin sister, Heather, won the event last year - and last year's runner-up, Baily Turner of South Charleston High School.

Click here for list of festival winners.

Taylor's parents, Misty and Bill Freeland, and her 13-year-old sister, Olivia, said it's been a very trying week for the family. But with the four to five hours Taylor devotes daily to practice in the family's front yard, Bill said the family would get up this morning proud regardless of the result.

"I've never met someone so determined and dedicated to her sport," her mother said.

After coming to the festival every year since the sixth grade, Taylor said winning the majorette title is a "dream come true."

She also has competed in national twirling events and plans to try out for the spot with the Marshall University Marching Thunder.

Taylor and fellow GW twirler Lexie White helped their band earn top honors in the general effect category. The Patriots also placed first in AAA band playing and marching, snapping their fingers and play fighting to tunes from the musical "West Side Story."

But it was not enough to unseat perennial powerhouse Capital High School as the festival grand champion. The Cougars nabbed first places in the color guard and percussion categories in addition to second place in both band playing and marching.

But Director Bobby Jenks didn't think the school's ninth straight overall title was in the bag.

"I was very nervous," Jenks said after waving to fans in the crowd. "The competition all night was very tight."

Capital opened the event with a pirate-themed show. Auxiliary members twirled mops and drumbeats boomed like cannons on a vessel during the Capital's "voyage for the eternal quest for swag," as described in the band's introduction.

The show included four parts, moving from the start of the adventure to a battle at sea. Following a victory - and forcing the "Lilly landlubbers" to walk the plank - the Capital band formed an "X" to signify buried treasure.   

Jenks said the music and formations were particularly difficult this year and he was very proud of his band's ability to pick up the routine.

He said his auxiliary members in particular had been working very hard. Even before the start of band camp, they were sweating it out several times a week.

"They ran one to two miles each (practice) during the summer," Jenks said.

Even though going first meant Jenks' band was able to perform before temperatures had dropped much at Laidley Field, Jenks said it was torturous to watch the rest of the bands perform. He said some of the smaller bands were "phenomenal," and he tipped his hat to their performances.

Right after the high schools performed, Marshall University's 330-member Marching Thunder took the field, wowing the crowd with their massive sound.

They played a medley of classic R&B hits from the likes of Michael Jackson and Donna Summer. Kanawha County members of the band were recognized during the performance, and the crowd roared.     

Herbert Hoover had a solid showing thanks in large part to the Ryan twins as featured twirlers and Bethany Rucker as field commander. Rucker earned the first-place award for field commanders among AA schools and Haley and Heather Ryan shared the top honor for featured twirlers thanks to a South Beach-themed performance.

Sissonville High School had perhaps the most intense performance. Entitled "Afterworld," smoke drifted amongst the band, and field commander Katie Tipton shed a black cape to reveal her large black wings as the Indians paid tribute to Dante's "The Divine Comedy."

Tipton finished second in the field commander category, and Sissonville earned first-place marks in the percussion and general effect categories.

St. Albans High School entered the same waters as Capital with an ocean theme of their own. The Red Dragons used buckets for drums and had a massive ship on the field as first-place field commander Jessica Smith led them through "1492: Mundus Novus."

Trophies were presented by Kanawha County school board member Robin Rector, with one exception. Heather Ryan, last year's Miss Majorette, crowned her successor.  

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or Follow him at


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