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About 500 of the nation’s top baton twirlers gathered at the Stockton Arena this month to compete in the 2022 U.S. National Baton Twirling Championships.

The event, which took place July 11-16, was originally scheduled to be held in Stockton in 2020, but was postponed due to the pandemic, making a return in 2022.

“We are excited to return to the West Coast and hold our National Championships in Stockton,” said Karen Cammer, president of the United States Twirling Association. “Stockton is a beautiful, welcoming city that offers our athletes and families a quality competition venue surrounded by family-friendly attractions and amenities.”

During the event, male and female athletes, kids and adults from all over the country competed in individual and group categories such as Solo, Two-Baton, Three-Baton, Strut and the Artistic Twirl.

In the Solo event, twirlers use one baton which is rolled, flipped and tossed around the body and through the air at great speed. Two-Baton and Three-Baton use two or three batons which must be kept moving at all times. Strut and Artistic Twirl incorporate dance and gymnastics in the twirling.

Among this year’s competitors were the current Grand National Champions Bower Sarra, Savannah Miller and Kylie Cates, alongside more than 80 athletes from California. According to USTA, they are all members of Team USA, which will represent the country in the twirling equivalent of the Olympic Games, the World Baton Twirling Championships. The World Championships will be held in Turin, Italy, Aug. 4-7.

“I think putting [the recordings of the competition] more into the mainstream is going to help the sport develop and help get us to the Olympics, which is one of our big goals as a community,” said Sarra, sharing that the Stockton competition recordings are now available on the USTA Vimeo page.

Another Grand National Champion Laney Puhalla echoed Sarra’s words about the importance of spreading the knowledge and awareness about baton twirling.

2022 USTA Nationals – Day 5 Fri – Finals from US Twirling Association on Vimeo.

“I know so many people, when I talk to them about baton twirling, they don’t really know what it has become,” said Puhalla, a third-generation baton twirler who has been twirling since age two. “People automatically think like, oh, majorettes marching with a band and yes, a lot of us still do that. But the competition realm has developed so much over the past few years.” Puhalla bagged two grand national trophies this year — one in Women’s Solo category and another one in Two-Baton category.

On Friday evening, the National Collegiate Finals took place, followed by the National Finals show. The 2022 U.S. National Baton Twirling Championship’s final event was on Saturday with Team Finals.

Harika Maddala is a photojournalist based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Bay City News Foundation and its nonprofit news site Local News Matters. They are a Report for America corps member and a CatchLight Local Fellow.