Elite Conant student insists baton twirling is a sport
Competitive baton twirler Chase Dorn knows full well that some people don't think of her sport as, well, a sport.
She knows better.
"It's a sport because it takes just as much agility and training and coordination and fitness as any sport -- as soccer, as basketball, as cheerleading, as dance," said Chase, a 17-year-old senior at James B. Conant High School in Hoffman Estates.
"A lot of people don't understand it. People who've seen me twirl get it."
Chase, who lives in Elk Grove Village, was selected to be part of a team of elite baton twirlers from across the country performing as U.S. ambassadors during a 10-day trip to Peru this month. The team, sponsored by Lions Club International, will make appearances at several events, including the annual International Spring Festival.
Besides consistently ranking as a top 10 national baton twirler in her age group over the years, Chase recently was named the state's Distinguished Young Woman of the Year, maintains a high GPA and volunteers on the pediatric floor or a suburban hospital.
Her baton twirling instructor, Candy Kimball of Akron, Ohio, recommended her for the Peru team.
"These are very accomplished baton twirlers. They're not your average high school majorettes," she said.
"They need to be excellent twirlers, but they also need to be excellent performers, not be a robot out there. They need to connect with the crowd and do the showmanship.
"They are looking for more mature girls in social situations as well," Kimball said. "And when you miss two weeks of school, you have to be girls that are pretty solid academically."
Chase competes in different events -- solo, strut and modeling -- but strut is her passion.
"It's more dancing with the baton and showing strength and coordination and agility," she said.
Chase placed 4th in the X-Strut category at this year's America's Youth on Parade, the most prestigious national baton twirling competition, held in July at the University of Notre Dame.
That was bittersweet, because the top three make it to the world championship, she said.
"You're so close, yet so far," she said. "But it's definitely something that's going to push me for the next three years."
Still, it was a great accomplishment, said Kimball, who's trained hundreds of baton twirlers over the years. Chase meets with a coach in Chicago once a month and travels as far as St. Louis and Wisconsin to meet with others a few times a year.
"Chase has a terrific work ethic," Kimball said. "She's doing a lot of her practicing on her own, which means she has to be focused on mentally making corrections herself and paying close attention, when she does see one of us, to follow through on the things we tell her to work on."
Chase discovered baton twirling at age 5 through a local park district class.
"I did ballet and soccer, but baton was something that really intrigued me," she said. "I fell in love with it and I was like, "This is what I want to do.'"
She practices one to two hours before school three to five times a week at a local gym, and every day during the summer in preparation for nationals in July. She also takes dance classes for flexibility and endurance.
She is the featured twirler for the Conant High marching band, a position she's held since freshman year. She attends all band practices and camp in the summer.
"I do like the spotlight," she said. "The spotlight pressures you to do well and show people what you're capable of."
When not at school or practice, you often can find Chase volunteering on the pediatric floor at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Hoffman Estates.
"I give out water, Popsicles and high-fives," she said. "I like to interact with people, so I chose the floor over front desk. It's more fun to talk to people."
Sometimes her busy life gets a little stressful, she said. "You have to make time for friends, family, food and sleep!" she says.
Chase, who carries a 3.457 GPA on a 4.0 scale, says she wants to major in communications and Asian studies in college. She hopes to attend the University of Texas at Austin, which has a great twirling program, she said.
She is fluent in Japanese, having attended a dual-language program since the first grade. Her ultimate goal is to study law and work as a corporate attorney for a Japanese law firm or company, she said.
The dual-language program can put pressure on little kids, especially early on, but also teaches them to be more accepting of other cultures, she said.
Chase was named this year's Distinguished Young Woman of Illinois, a scholarship program for high school girls.
She won the top spot in four of out the five judged categories, which is unprecedented, said organization chairwoman Tiana Evans.
"The only category that Chase did not win was scholastic achievement, although she is quite impressive in this category as well with her 31 ACT score," Evans said. "I expect that she will be a top 10 finalist at nationals next year."
Chase said her most proud accomplishment is placing 4th overall at baton twirling nationals last year. That's because she did it without her mother by her side.
Her mom was back home recovering from a car accident in which another driver blew a stop sign and T-boned the Dorns' car, she said. Chase's parents were injured, but Chase and her younger brother suffered only bruises.
"It was a self-accomplishment thing," Chase said. "I really wanted to prove to (my mother), after all of her years of working with me and pushing me, that I could do it."
Chase said when she puts her mind to something, it's hard to stop her.
"Once I get something in my head, I have to do it," she said. "If I can't, I do whatever it takes to get as close as I can to my goal. If you don't push, you don't get anywhere. It's all about trying new things and see what you can do."
Hometown: Elk Grove Village
School: James B. Conant High School
Who inspires you? Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who advocates for girls and their education. She's so brave for standing up for what she believes in. Also my grandma, because she's the rock of our family.
What book are you reading? I just finished "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" Stephen Chbosky. I also really liked "Divergent" by Veronica Roth.
What's on your iPod? I use my iPhone. I like John Meyer, Jack Johnson, Ron Pope.
The three words that best describe you? Approachable. Tenacious. Athletic.