“Pride of the Southland” Feature Twirlers Represent UT at International Baton Twirling Championships
The “Pride of the Southland” Marching Band is making waves internationally. Feature Twirler Laney Puhalla competed this summer in baton twirling world championships, taking home six medals. Feature Twirler Abbie Hadener has qualified to take part in the world championships next summer.
There are two major international competitions for competitive baton twirling – the WFNBTA (World Federation of National Baton Twirling Associations) Championship and the WBTF (World Baton Twirling Federation) World Championships. The competitions themselves differ from the baton twirling you typically see in “Pride of the Southland” Marching Band performances, with the structure of the competition similar to that of gymnastics in the Olympics. Teams from each participating country compete for gold, silver, and bronze medals, while twirlers do the same for individual events as well.
“When people think of batons, they think of old-school majorettes, who wear white boots and march in parades,” said Puhalla, who made her seventh and eighth appearances (across both world competitions) this year. “In the world competitions, they used to do one turn and two turns, and now participants are competing in six spins.”
Abbie Hadener, who will make her third appearance on Team USA next summer, agrees: “The use of gymnastics tricks and tumbling has really evolved compared to earlier in the competition history.”
The two twirlers have remarkably similar stories, which speak to their early and constant dedication to the sport, their love of the “Pride of the Southland” Marching Band, and their continued success as performers and competitors.
Hadener (pictured right), a rising sophomore from Boynton Beach, Fla. majoring in nutrition science, started on her baton twirling path quite early. At just seven years old, she took her first baton twirling class and has been on an upward trajectory ever since. She has since competed with Team USA on the international stage twice, the first time in Poreč, Croatia, in 2017, and the second in Limoges, France, in 2019. She has qualified to compete internationally in summer 2023. She had success in those first two competitions, as well, bringing home a bronze team medal in 2017 and placing in the top five in 2019.
The “Pride of the Southland” Marching Band has continued to play a role in her development as a baton twirler since her arrival on campus in fall 2021. She says that the UT campus felt like home, especially after her first band camp. Her experiences since have only solidified that connection and continue to do so each gameday.
“When we open up the T with the band and run through it, the atmosphere lights up so much,” Hadener said. “I continue to get chills every single time we open up the T.”
A rising senior in pre-med who is also a Knoxville resident, Puhalla (pictured left) is a multi-generational baton twirler, having inherited a joy for the sport from her mother and grandmother. She first picked up a twirling baton during her toddler years, and has since garnered many competition accolades. Her first international competition was in 2012 and she has since gone back to at least one of the two world championships in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2022. She has qualified to do the same in 2023.
This summer, Puhalla competed in both world championship competitions. First she competed at WFNBTA in Eindenhoven, Netherlands, where she was awarded with two gold team medals with Team USA, and four silver medals for the individual competitions. At WBTF in Turin, Italy, she competed individually in the senior women’s competition, where she placed sixth. These two competitions immediately followed the U.S. National Baton Twirling Championships, where Puhalla took first place in the Grand National Women’s Solo and 2-Baton events.
While it was the neuroscience program that ultimately brought her to the University of Tennessee, the “Pride of the Southland” Marching Band also played a critical role. Not unlike Hadener, she thinks back to her first gameday experience as a formative one.
“When we had our first parade to the stadium on gameday, coming down the hill before salute to the hill happens, I saw nothing but orange. It gave me chills,” Puhalla said. “When we were lined up for pregame waiting for our drum major to give us the call, I could feel the ground shaking under my feet from the crowd.”