By Dave Ongie, News Editor
A reunion over 50 years in the making will take place at Rotary Park in Johnson City on Saturday, June 22.
On that day, women of all ages will gather at the park with their families and celebrate the tie that binds them all together – Chris’ Twirlettes. The event – which is expected to be attended by over 150 former Twirlettes and their families – will run from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m.
There was a time when every nearly parade in our region featured a dazzling baton twirling demonstration by Chris’ Twirlettes. Started in 1964, the group took root in Johnson City under the leadership of Chris Woods, and the Twirlettes went on to march in local parades as well as the World’s Fair Parade in Knoxville and the 4th of July Parade in Atlanta.
“(Chris’ Twirlettes) twirled for presidents Reagan and Carter as well as other famous people visiting the area,” Woods recalled. “And wonderful lifelong friendships were made both for me and my students.”
Woods’ fascination with baton twirling started at a young age. By the time she was 13, Woods was teaching lessons in her front yard in Unicoi, charging 25 cents per lesson. Neighbors and friends made up her early clientele.
“They would come on Saturday mornings, drop their quarter in a cigar box and twirl away,” Woods recalled.
Her first twirling group was known as the Unicoi Pirates, named after the local elementary school. They marched in parades in Erwin and participated in school programs. When Woods moved to Johnson City to attend ETSU – still ETSC in those days – she brought her passion for twirling to Johnson City.
Woods remembers going down to the old Park and Recreation building on Legion Street to ask Howard Johnson if she could teach through the Johnson City Parks & Recreation. When she found out he wasn’t there, she got his address and paid him a visit.
“I talked to him on his front porch, and that started 40 years of teaching with the Parks & Recreation,” Woods said.
Those 40 years created countless warm memories for Woods, but it also had a tremendous impact on the lives of the thousands of young girls who came through the program. Many of her former students went on to become majorettes at the high school and college level, but more importantly, many young women who needed a positive role model at a critical time in their lives found one in Woods, who was teaching over 500 students a week throughout the region when the program was at its peak.
Woods moved to South Carolina in 2013 with her husband Carl “Buzzy” Woods, who has since passed away. The lasting impact of Chris’ Twirlettes can be found on Facebook, where a group of over 600 alumni of the program share old photos and stories on a regular basis.
Recently, Woods had the idea to hold a reunion. She was hoping that at least 50 of her former students would be able to make it, but as of last week, 150 had signed up with some of them coming from as far away as Michigan and Florida. The event will feature food and fellowship, and a group photo is scheduled for 2 p.m. Former members are asked to wear a touch of red, white or blue to the event, and parents of former members are also welcome to attend.
Woods expects that June 22 will be a day to remember as she reflects on a 40-year journey borne from her passion for twirling a baton.
“I wouldn’t change a minute of it,” Woods said.
Those wishing to learn more information or register for the event can reach out to Woods on the Twirlette’s Facebook group – Chris’ Twirlettes – East Tennessee Baton Twirlers.