COLUMBIA — Amid the cheering, the excitement and the fanfare of a Missouri football game, it is easy to overlook the two women on the field twirling batons in time to the marching band's music.
Courtney Chandler, an MU senior, and Halie Hart, a junior, have been twirling for most of their lives. Each had her own path to end up at Missouri, but they both say collegiate twirling was their goal.
"This is a dream come true for me," Hart said. "We both, every twirler, dreams their whole life leading up to college to be in this position and have a spotlight like this and be able to perform on such a big stage. It's really cool to be able to showcase your talent and pride for the university every Saturday."
Chandler grew up in Columbia and has been twirling since she was 3. She said that coming to Missouri football and basketball games with her parents as a kid inspired her to pursue twirling.
"I always wanted to come here," Chandler said. "Being here now is really cool."
Hart has a different story. Her mother and grandmother were both twirlers, but she fought against following in their footsteps until she turned 10.
"I wanted to do my own thing, so I tried every other sport under the sun," Hart said. "Then, when I was 10, I picked up a baton, and I've been in love ever since."
Both Chandler and Hart have also done competitive twirling — an atmosphere different from performing with a college marching band.
Leading up to competitions, twirlers might spend six hours a day in the gym doing two-a-day practices. The week before a competition like nationals, Hart said, they rarely leave the practice facility.
"I don't think anybody realizes how much work we put in and how athletic we actually are," Hart said. "It's always looked at as very much like dance and an art, but it really is athletic, and it's very physically demanding."
Chandler no longer competes. She said that as she has gotten older, it has become more difficult to practice the long hours preparing for competitions.
But Hart has big competition goals in mind.
Next spring and summer, if she makes it through state, regional and national qualifying events, Hart hopes to advance to the World Baton Twirling Championships. Worlds will be held in August in Nottingham, England.
"That's my next goal right now," Hart said. "Competitions are all about proving yourself and trying to to be the best out there."
Despite the physical demands put on twirlers and the amount of time they spend rehearsing, Hart and Chandler are excited about the start of Southeastern Conference home games and witnessing the atmosphere in the stadium when teams like Florida and South Carolina come to town.
They both said they wouldn't trade their experiences performing in front of a packed crowd on game day for anything.
"Little girls look up to us because they want to be here and they want to do this," Hart said. "You're almost a role model in a sense."
"It's always the first and the last game, I just tear up standing there because I love Mizzou so much," Chandler said. "I grew up going to Mizzou, basically. My parents both went here and graduated; that's how they met. I feel like I've always been a part of Mizzou."
Supervising editor is Nina Pantic.