Twirling Wildcats find recognition in popular video

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 7, 2020

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LAPLACE — When East St. John Flag Team captain Kelsey Harris tripped on a Mardi Gras bead while marching in a New Orleans parade, she didn’t miss a beat. She kept moving to the rhythm of the music on the ground before popping back up, the smile never leaving her face.

The moment was captured in an ESJ Twirling Wildcats video that has amassed approximately 40,000 views and 700 shares on Facebook. Hundreds of commenters commended her for bouncing back from the misstep so naturally that it looked like a planned part of the routine.

Other videos showed the girls in the zone, representing the black and yellow with a passion and vigor that carries the team year-round.

Flag Team and Majorette sponsor Angelisha Wells said the recognition has left her speechless. The girls are texting each other shocked emojis while counting and celebrating the views by the thousands.

“This is the first time since I’ve been here for the last four years that I have ever seen my group of girls get that much recognition,” Wells said. “They deserve it because they work hard all year, and the only time that they really get a chance for so many people to see them is during Mardi Gras. Now they are getting this additional exposure through social media. It’s breathtaking.”

Flag Team and Majorettes are auxiliary groups that accompany the East St. John Marching Band. Like the dance team, the auxiliary groups must memorize choreography. However, the Majorettes utilize two 28- to 30-inch batons, and the Flag Team must twirl their flags perfectly in sync to achieve the full visual effect.

“The girls still need to have rhythm and have that hand-eye coordination and those types of basic dance elements, but with the added element of now having to do something with their hands,” Wells said. “They have to use hand eye coordination and have their muscle memory down pat to be able to coordinate the dance moves with their twirls and be able to do tricks.”

The girls perform throughout the school year, starting with halftime routines at fall football games. The Flag Team and Majorettes also perform at some basketball games, pep rallies, school functions, Mardi Gras parades and community events, including functions for local veterans.

Flag team members are, from left to right, Daila Hammett, Jerelnika Strauder, Ariel Lightell, Captain Kelsey Harris, Co-Captain Aaliyah Smith, Shania Turley, Brooklyn Walker and Robin Smith.

The teams appeared in January’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in LaPlace and in nine New Orleans Mardi Gras parades this year. They were recently invited to Destrehan High School to participate in a Black History Month program.

While Wells said she would love to take the girls to competitions, there are not many opportunities in southern Louisiana. Most competitions are in the northern United States or out west and would require a significant amount of money and travel time.

Expenses already total $950 to $1,000 for equipment and uniforms paid out of pocket, and more sponsors are needed.

While many teenagers on high school football and basketball teams have played rec sports from an early age, those on Majorettes and Flag Team do not have the same level of preparation.

“They don’t have Majorettes in St. John Parish at the lower ages. When I get these girls, they come to me with no training,” Wells said. “They learn everything they need to know within four to six weeks over the summer. In order to be prepared for the first football game, they have to be here eight hours a day, five days a week because they have a lot to learn.”

There are eight girls on Flag Team and 10 girls in Majorettes this year, and Wells said their positivity is contagious. The energy of the team is lighthearted and fun.

“Right now, double flag twirling and this style of Majorettes isn’t something that’s recognized in college,” she said. “They put so much of their heart into it knowing that this is something that will possibly not go any further than high school. I love their dedication.”

Tryouts for Flag Team and Majorettes are quickly approaching. For more information, call East St. John at 985-536-4226 and ask to speak to Angelisha Wells. The girls can be found on Instagram @Esjtwirlingwildcats.