You might say baton twirling is in Kathleen Y. Mercatili’s blood. She has been the director of the Double “R” Twirlettes since 1994, when she took over from her mother.
“I have been twirling from the time I was old enough to hold a baton,” she said, adding that she marched in her first parade when she was just 18 months old.
The Twirlettes will present “Celebrating 70 Years” on Saturday, May 11, at 6:30 p.m. at the Mid Valley Secondary Center in Throop. The show will look back at the history of the group. It will feature the current Twirlettes as well as alumni special guest performers.
“The group was founded in 1949 by my grandparents, the late Roman and Helen Pilch, as a part of the Dickson City American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps,” she explained. “The bugle corps only had boys and my grandparents wanted to give girls the opportunity to participate in parades and performances as well. My aunt, Rita Pilch Flannery, was the group’s first mascot.”
The drum and bugle corps eventually disbanded, but the twirlers were still going strong in 1962, when the group’s name was changed to Double “R” Twirlettes. That was when Mercatili’s mother, Rosemary Pilch Yankovich, began teaching the students.
Mercatili said she is thrilled that so many alumni are returning for the recital.
The show will be a family affair.
“My daughter Kali, age 6, is now twirling,” she said. “This was her first year performing solos and she is definitely a natural. My mother, Rosemary, still comes to class on a regular basis to help with book work or to pitch in teaching when I need her. As for the recital, she will be backstage helping with the show. My husband, Keith Mercatili, directs all the music on show night with assistance from my son, KJ, age 12. My father, Walter Yankovich, will be out front collecting tickets and handing out programs.”
She said the biggest challenge for a group like this is the crowded schedule most kids have today.
“There are so many more extracurricular opportunities for children,” she said. “Seventy years ago, little girls only took baton twirling and/or ballet. Now they play sports, have many different clubs and activities at school and more. My own daughter loves to twirl but she also dances, plays softball, basketball and soccer. So, it is wonderful that today’s children have all these opportunities and experiences, but it makes it a challenge to introduce them to this wonderful sport/art form when they are so busy with other activities.”
The group holds state, regional and national twirling championships and has been guest performers with Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruise lines.
The group has also performed in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Magic Kingdom of Walt Disney World, Disney Springs, the Little League World Series Parade, the World’s Fair in Tennessee, Paramount’s Canada’s Wonderland, Niagara Falls, Virginia Beach, the Miss America Pageant Parade and the Armed Forces Boardwalk Parade in Atlantic City, the boardwalk of Ocean City Maryland, Cypress Gardens, Sea World, Universal Studios, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the U.S. Capitol, National Cherry Blossom Festival and the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
Members of the Twirlettes’ Senior Competition Corps have also performed in London, Paris and Russia.
Mercatili said that the Twirlettes pride themselves on their strong tradition of charitable and volunteer work. Each year they conduct a benefit twirl-a-thon for St. Joseph’s Center and a spring recital for charity. Through the years, the group has donated well over $150,000.00 to local charities.
This year 15 group members twirled with seven different high schools, including Mid Valley. Mercatili frequently choreographs the field shows for a number of local high school twirling teams and feature twirlers.
In June members of the group will be guest performers on the Carnival Sunrise cruise ship during a cruise to Bermuda.
“Through the years thousands of girls and young ladies have learned the art of baton twirling with the Double “R” Twirlettes,” she said. “They have gone on to twirl for their high schools and colleges. They have won national championships, traveled to many exciting destinations, and twirled in many prestigious events. Most importantly they have made memories and friendships to last a lifetime.”