PEPPERELL -- Holly's bunch are all ages and all different levels of experience.
They are sisters, cousins and friends, competitors, hobbyists and majorettes. They are duets, X-struters, hoopers and fire-throwers. They are twirlers.
Holly's Bunch is a gym, also, located in Lomar Park. A rectangle room with high ceilings and a lot of history. Holly is Holly DeGroote, the gym owner of 29 years and twirler since age 7.
"I love teaching, my background is in early childhood education," said DeGroote. "But now I get to take my love of twirling and teach students."
The gym has been in Lomar Park since 1994. Before that, she worked out of the North Middlesex Regional High School where she still coaches the majorettes. She
DeGroote was inducted into the National Twirling Hall of Fame in 2003 for continuing to bring twirling to new generations through her work.
"It's incredible turning your passion into going to work," she said. "I like doing it, and even in tough economic times, I don't turn away.
"The job is fulfilling emotionally in so many different ways, In fact I don't feel I'm necessarily at a job."
Parent Bonnie Bunton, whose twin daughters Theresa and Anna are twirling for the first year, says the program is an all-around great
"It's something they can do all the way through college, and it's different from soccer or dance because it's affordable and has a shorter time commitment," she said.
Holly's prices are reasonable and her schedules, flexible, says Bunton, but she also cares for the kids in and out of class.
"She's a great role model," said Bunton.
Both Theresa and Anna are in the Tiny Tots class and practice once per week for 45 minutes. The girls also practice twirling at home, Bunton added.
Their main inspiration for joining was seeing their nieces in the NMRHS Majorette program. Twirlers marching down Main Street during Memorial Day or cheering on teams at Homecoming Games has long been a way to get into it.
"I watched the parade and knew I wanted the costume, knew I wanted to do that when i got to high school," said twirler Amanda Proctor.
The now-former majorette is 25 years old and still comes to the gym, and not just for twirling.
"Twirling is therapy for me," she said. "It's extremely good for me on good days and bad days."
Proctor has been coming to Holly's gym for years and participated in all different types of events. As a solo performer, she has taken dance-twirl routines to competitions all over the region.
Dance-twirl combines theater with baton twirling. Proctor says her most recent disco-themed performance featured props like an afro, gold sequins and disco ball and purse.
"I dances to Shake Your Groove Thing (by Peaches & Herb)," Proctor said. "It changes each year, I've done routines to Aerosmith, one was doctor-themed, another NASCAR, and one called 'breaking the law'."
Fellow twirler Tina Seeger says Proctor's routines are ever-inventive. She says the gym is one big family, and she has made lifelong friends there.
Seeger will be attending Williams College in the fall, a three hour trip from Pepperell.
"It's a long way away, but there is no way I'm leaving Holly's Bunch," she said.
Another collegiate twirler, Kimberley Russell, attended the University of New Hampshire and performed as feature twirler from 2006 to 2012. She is an 18 Holly's Bunch veteran.
"Baton twirling is not just a sport, it has become a lifestyle," Russell said. "Baton has helped me reach my dreams and become the person I am today, I would not be that person without it and without Holly."
After graduating, Russell began applying for jobs and going to interviews. At every one, her experiences as a twirler came up. She translated her twirling training into any job she applied for, trained to accomplish goals, trained to practice, trained to be on time, trained to keep "can't" out of her vocabulary.
"I can't say where I would be without baton," she said.
The dreams of becoming a NM Majorette are just beign realized by sisters Leeann and Shannon Winton.
"This is my ninth year twirling, but in the majorettes I'm taking it more seriously," said Leeanne, entering her third year on the squad.
Both girls will be attending a band camp as school gets closer, practicing routines and and performing marching drills.
Shannon is in the midst of her first year.
"When I was little, I'd always watch," she said. "Now I have the oppourtunity to do homecoming games, push myself to get better and learn harder tricks."
Twirling's many uses come out at the gym, DeGroote said. Making friends, venting frustrations, exercising and more.
"I want everyone to enjoy batons, they should do what they want," DeGroote said. "And seeing people take advantage of that, I feel, is a positive comment about twirling."
Holly's bunch studio offers lessons during the summer on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. She welcomes interested newcomers to visit during those times.
For more information, contact the gym at 978-433-9111.
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