McMinn Sisters Give Twirling a Whirl

University Park residents Mallory and Mela McMinn, who twirl for the Highlander Band, picked up batons for the first time last year. (Photo: Sam Eichenwald)
Mallory and Mela McMinn will compete at the UIL Solo and Ensemble competition on May 24 in Pflugerville. (Photo: Sam Eichenwald)

Unlike many of their twirling counterparts, Mallory and Mela McMinn didn’t pick up a baton or perform for an audience in elementary school.

The sisters who currently act as the twirlers for Highland Park High School are relative newcomers to the activity, but you wouldn’t know it by watching them, whether alongside the marching band at a football game during the fall or at UIL competitions in the spring.

Mallory, a junior clarinet player in the band, first became interested in twirling a year ago, when she learned that nobody was in line to replace former HPHS twirler Amber Appel, who graduated last May.

So she and Mela, now a freshman, decided to pursue the post together, despite not having any prior experience. With time at a premium to be ready for the start of the 2013 football season, the sisters began taking lessons from Appel’s coach, Sheila Rigelsky at Texas Touch of Class.

“It was really lucky that we came up for Highland Park, because a lot of people love the twirlers,” Mallory said. “I had seen Amber for two years, so I knew a little bit about twirling. I really like the athleticism of it.”

Rigelsky said the sisters quickly developed a work ethic to complement their natural dexterity and coordination.

“They have done phenomenal. I use them as examples for my other students quite often,” Rigelsky said. “I was pleasantly surprised and thrilled that they were doing more than what I originally tried to put on them.”

Both sisters had always shown an affinity for the arts, with Mallory winning awards for ceramics and Mela involved in theater. But the world of twirling was as foreign to them as it was to their parents.

“They spent that entire year working toward that goal, and they just shocked everyone,” said the girls’ mother, Heather McMinn. “They picked it up in an uncanny way.”

After completing the football season, the sisters began the more technical competition season, which includes individual routines set to music that incorporate more dancing and acrobatics. Each earned a top score at the regional competition in February, meaning they will compete for a state title at the UIL Solo and Ensemble competition on May 24 in Pflugerville, a suburb of Austin.

Both girls said they enjoy the crowd-pleasing nature of their performances at football games, which has earned the admiration of young girls who want to imitate them or take selfies.

“My first performance was full of pressure, but I really liked that adrenaline rush,” Mallory said. “We’re like sprinkles on a cupcake. We just support the band.”

(This story originally ran in the May issue of Park Cities People, on stands now.)

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