Wetumpka native Shirley Ross DeVenney was honored with a lifetime achievement award at America’s Youth of Parade national twirling contest in July.
DeVenney was given the award on the last day of the competition and was surprised. She is one of about 12 people to receive the award in the last 50 years.
“I’ve been doing it for a long time and it’s wonderful getting that new award,” DeVenney said. “It’s something they don’t give many of those out. I was quite honored.”
DeVenney was also given the title of Major at the event.
DeVenney began twirling when she was in sixth grade and because no local baton camps were near when she grew up, she traveled to one in Syracuse, Indiana, when she was 13. By the time she went to Ole Miss she made the Rebellette Dance Team and was a twirler, captain and choreographer. She performed at the Sugar and Cotton bowl games.
After graduating from the university, she established and ran 20 twirling college camps across the South. DeVenney also established Georgia and Alabama state twirling contests.
DeVenney has taught twirling since the early 1960s.
DeVenney currently runs camps at Auburn University and University of North Alabama. She also helps with middle school theatre and owns a dress shop.
DeVenney still privately coaches twirlers.
“(Twirlers) do a little bit more than you see,” Devenney said. “They might toss the baton spin around five times and do a one-handed cartwheel and catch it upside down.”
DeVenney said many of her former students are now college twirl instructors.
“Many people don’t realize when they go into contest twirling where they’re really competing and they’re doing competitions, they learn a lot about hard work and how important it is to put your practice time into it and how much effort it takes so that later on, many of them tell me it helped prepare them (for the real world),” DeVenney said.
She still gets letters from former students thanking her because all their hard work has helped them in their careers beyond twirling.
“I think anything you do and do well and put your time into is a learning experience for sure,” DeVenney said. “Not just being out on the field and learning to twirl for the audience. It’s also all the hard work and determination that goes behind it, so that would be the main thing.”