They’re going to Disney World Guttenberg Twirlers head to Orlando to compete in national competition

Maria Vargas remembers vividly the reason why she became involved with baton twirling.

“My sister, Alejandra, was the first to get involved,” said Vargas, who has been the driving force behind the Guttenberg Twirlers’ team for the past 16 years. “I was about 11 years old and I saw that my sister was having fun, so I wanted to do it as well.”

Vargas joined the team sponsored by the Guttenberg Recreation department and remained as a competitive twirler for three years.

At age 14, when the program was dying and participation numbers were dwindling, Vargas wasn’t about to let it go by the wayside.

“I became the coach,” Vargas said.

At 14?

“We had about 20 kids who were on the team back then,” Vargas said. “My only problem was when we had to travel anywhere to a competition. Then I would need a supervisor as a chaperone.”

But that was a long time ago. Vargas is a woman now, and 16 years after taking over as the coach, she remains the backbone of the Guttenberg Twirlers’ program.

“I really love coaching the kids,” said Vargas, who is also an accomplished dancer and dance instructor. “I like performing and I still perform. But I love coaching the kids. It’s really a lot of fun.”
Over the years, the Guttenberg Twirlers have competed in several Eastern Seaboard Twirling Association (ESTA) events and have captured the New Jersey Twirling Association (NJTA) state title several times in different age groups and skill competitions (dance/twirl and basic twirl).

The troupe also performs at parades and municipal functions. They practice hard, fine tuning their craft, even if they lost their place of practice, the Guttenberg Community Center, after the building was condemned.

“We’re able to get some time at the [Anna L. Klein] school,” Vargas said. “Everyone has been accommodating.”

About a year ago, Daria DeMarco, one of the long-time members of the squad, was doing some work on the Internet for a project for one of her classes at High Tech High School.

“I was actually looking for clip arts that involved twirling,” said DeMarco, who is a 17-year-old senior at High Tech and began twirling with the Guttenberg team as a 4-year-old. “I was doing a power point project for a class and I needed twirling images. And this advertisement for ‘Twirl Mania’ came up.”

“Twirl Mania” is a competition held annually at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, with more than 4,000 twirlers worldwide participating.

“I told my coach about it,” DeMarco said. “I gave her the webpage to look at, just thinking how great it would be if we could go. But I never thought we would be able to make it.”

Looking into it

Vargas took DeMarco’s idea and started to think. Could it be possible that the girls from Guttenberg could go to Disney World?

“I figured we should look into it,” said Vargas, who works full-time as an accountant for the Hyatt Hotels in Jersey City. “I asked some people if it was possible.”

Vargas approached Guttenberg Recreation Director Pat O’Connor and Councilwoman Jennifer Credidio, who is in charge of recreation.

“I didn’t see a problem with it,” Credidio said. “As long as they were willing to raise the money.”

The estimated cost was $12,000 – not an easy task for a bunch of girls who never solicited funds before.

So the 14 members of the Guttenberg Twirlers went to work, trying to raise the funds in order to go to the nationals. They held a candy drive and went canning, looking for donations. They held a candlelight bowling party at Roosevelt Lanes in Jersey City and held a dance. There was a flea market as well. The girls collected donations from various sponsors and businesses.

“I was really impressed with the amount of work they put in to raise the money,” Vargas said. “Some people sent notes with the checks, wishing us luck. People who I didn’t even know existed, who I didn’t think knew we existed, sent us money. The support was tremendous.”

When the girls came close to reaching the estimated goal, the township kicked in a few dollars. The Guttenberg Twirlers were going to Disney World.

The Twirlers will compete in the “Twirl Mania” nationals Feb. 21 through 23. They will give a special exhibition on Feb. 6 to show off their routines before heading off to the big tournament in the shadows of Mickey, Donald and Goofy.

“They’re all thrilled,” Vargas said. “They’re counting the hours. They’re coming in to practice early on the weekends to get ready. They’re very dedicated and doing whatever they can to get there.”

“We’re all so excited,” DeMarco said. “We’ve been working extra hard and having extra practices. I think I’m more excited than some of the little ones, because I’ve been with the team for so long. When we started thinking about it, we started calculating the money and said, ‘We’ll never be able to do this.’ But now, it’s going to happen and it’s almost too overwhelming.”
Credidio said that she was happy to be able to help the cause.

“I think it’s the first time we’ve ever sent a girls’ team to a national competition of any kind,” Credidio said. “It’s nice that we’re giving the girls the same opportunity we’ve given other teams. Maria deserves a lot of the credit. She’s probably the most dedicated coach we have in our program. You don’t find many people willing to give of their time the way Maria does. It’s also nice that she was part of the program when she was a kid and remains that way today. The girls are all so committed to do it. They deserve this chance.”

Vargas doesn’t know what’s going to happen in Florida. She knows the team, which consists of DeMarco, Lil Andrea Duarte, Julie Duarte, Samantha Dunn, Sandra Camacho, Diana Mestre, Kristen Morales, Jessica Mendez, Stephanie Herrera, Ariel Pizzigonni and Daphne Mendez, will give a solid showing.

The team has three coaches, namely Vargas, her sister Alejandra, and Korrissa Zimmer.

“It’s not as easy as it looks,” Vargas said. “Twirling is a talent.”

A talent that will take these girls from Guttenberg to Disney World next month.


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