Rose Bowl, parade a ‘twirler’s dream’ for Lititz student

By on January 4, 2017

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This article appeared in the LNP Sunday News on Jan. 1.

A famous football game and parade in California on Sunday will make Rachel Reiss’ longtime dream come true.

When the Penn State University Blue Band comes marching down the street in the 128th Tournament of Roses Parade this morning, the Lancaster Country Day School graduate will lead the way as the Blue Sapphire &tstr; the band’s featured baton twirler.

Reiss will be front and center again early this evening, as the Blue Band performs in the Rose Bowl &tstr; the granddaddy of them all &tstr; as Penn State’s football team plays against USC.

Interviewed by phone early last week during her semester break from Penn State, Reiss says she is still in a state of disbelief that she gets to perform with the band during both the Rose Bowl game and its famous floral-float parade.

“Even when I was a little girl, I knew about the Rose Bowl,” Reiss says. “And it’s pretty much every twirler’s dream to perform at the Rose Bowl” and the parade.

“Twirling in a 5½-mile parade, that’s definitely not something I’ve ever done before,” Reiss says. “So that’s something new that I’ll have to see what it’s like and adapt to.”

You’ll spot Reiss on the field at the bowl game in her trademark white-trimmed-with-blue costume, throwing her baton high in the air and doing handsprings before catching it.

Her performances, which she choreographs herself, are always filled with dance, gymnastics and dizzying feats of twirling multiple batons.

 

Local ties

Reiss, who grew up in Wrightsville, now comes home to Lititz to visit; her parents, Kerma and Bill Reiss, moved there soon after their daughter went off to Penn State.

Reiss graduated in 2014 from Country Day, which she had attended since the sixth grade. Before she had her diploma in hand, she already knew that she had been chosen as Penn State’s Blue Sapphire for her freshman year.

“Penn State was definitely my No. 1 choice,” Reiss says. “Going to Penn State and being the Blue Sapphire was always my dream.”

She must audition for the title, which comes with a scholarship, every spring.

 

Twirling tot

Reiss’ skill as a feature twirler has come from a lifetime of study and hard work.

She first picked up a baton at age 4 &tstr; as a backup plan.

“I wanted to take tap-dancing lessons,” Reiss recalls. “But when I went to the studio with my mom, the tap classes were full. But they had baton-twirling classes open. So I decided to take one of those.”

Reiss found her calling. “And I have just stuck with it ever since,” she says.

Rachel Reiss, who spends her semester breaks with her parents in Lititz, is the Blue Sapphire, or feature twirler, for the Penn State Blue Band. (Images provided by Rachel Reiss)

Rachel Reiss, who spends her semester breaks with her parents in Lititz, is the Blue Sapphire, or feature twirler, for the Penn State Blue Band. (Images provided by Rachel Reiss)

Competitions

Lancaster Country Day School doesn’t have a football team or a marching band. So when Reiss was young, she performed mostly in competitions through the National Baton Twirling Association.

Reiss has held both the adult and junior titles in the Miss Majorette of Pennsylvania competition and has competed at the national level.

“I started competing at age 6 and have competed every year ever since,” she notes.

What characteristic does Reiss think is most important for a feature twirler, out there in the spotlight, in front of a huge stadium and TV audience?

“I think the most important thing is just to be confident,” she says. “It’s a pretty risky sport, in that you throw the baton in the air and sometimes you don’t know if you’re going to catch it.

“But having confidence in yourself and confidence in your preparation &tstr; that can really make or break a performance,” Reiss adds. “If you’re confident, you’re more likely to have more fun. That really translates to the audience.”

 

Academic rigor

Of course, Reiss’ life is not all Blue Band and batons. She’s part of a demanding academic program at Penn State, too.

The Penn State junior is working on a double major in French and francophone studies and corporate innovation and entrepreneurship.

Reiss is in the Schreyer Honors College and the Paterno Fellows Program at Penn State. Both programs require students to maintain certain academic and leadership standards.

“It’s definitely a juggling act sometimes,” Reiss says. “I was always busy with activities my whole life, so even in middle school I got used to time management. … I got used to being efficient, and focusing when I needed to be focused,” she adds. “I’ve really translated those skills to college.

“I love everything that I’m doing,” Reiss says. “I feel really fortunate that I get to do all of these things &tstr; that I’m able to double-major, be in the Blue Band, be involved in other activities and be successful academically.”

Once the Rose Bowl is behind her, Reiss plans to look for a summer internship.

“Hopefully that will tell me more about what I want to do” in the future, she says. “I’m interested in working for a larger company, to get some experience in the business world, and, hopefully, an international company where I do have the opportunity to travel. … I would love to be able to utilize my French degree.”

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‘Gives me chills’

Reiss has already had wonderful experiences as Penn State’s Blue Sapphire.

“Every time I take the field at Beaver Stadium, it’s so incredible,” she says. “It gives me chills to think about it.”

Performing with the Blue Band during such standout games as Penn State’s recent 24-21 victory over rival Ohio State has made special memories for Reiss.

“And, definitely, twirling on the stage at THON every year,” Reiss says. “THON is something that’s unique to Penn State, so that is so special. I consider it an honor to perform on that stage in front of all those people, and hopefully make some kids smile.”

Reiss also is involved in fundraising for THON, the annual dance marathon that raises millions of dollars for the Four Diamonds Fund for families of children with cancer.

“I love what I do,” Reiss says. “We have a great staff with the Blue Band, and I’ve made so many friends.” The band is like a second family, she notes.

“I’m incredibly excited to be performing (at the Rose Bowl),” Reiss says. “It’s something so incredible that we’ll all remember forever.”

Mary Ellen Wright writes about food, arts and entertainment for LNP She can be reached at mwright@lnpnews.com or 481-6131

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