Joyce Rice, National Baton Twirling Champion, 1959

Tossing Above Silo

Joyce Rice grew up on her family’s farm in Greenfield, Iowa, where she practiced tossing her baton higher than the silos. According to an article in the Creston News at the age of 17, she was named the “best baton twirler in the world”, after “defeating over 20,000 other young women.” (SOURCE)

Governor Attends Celebration

Greenfield Chamber Main Street identified Rice as the 1959 National Baton Twirling Champion as did her high school yearbook. The competition took place in St. Paul, Minnesota that year. A news story about her big win was covered by the Des Moines Register on February 6, 1959.

According to the story, 500 Greenfield residents gathered at the Des Moines Municipal Airport to welcome her home. The yearbook reported that it was closer to 1,000. The Greenfield High School band played and Governor Herschel Loveelss, Mayor Marion Carlson and the school superintendant greeted her. In addition, Greenfield schools were dismissed early that day and students arrived in seven school buses. The reigning Miss Iowa also greeted her with a bouquet.

Twirling at Iowa State

Rice went on to twirl at Iowa State University in the late 1950s and early 1960s. She’s pictured below, eyes closed, marching by the Iowa State Capitol during the Drake Relays Parade, in the autumn of 1959. In 1961, she was elected ISU homecoming queen. A few pictures in her college yearbook showcase her talents, particularly with fire baton.

Photos by John D. Clinton | Posted with permission from Iowa State University
Drake University Baton Twirlers

Rice Today

According to a caption on a Getty image of Rice, she was twirling batons and fire hoops at rodeos in the late 1960s. Later in life, she became known as the Ag Magician, educating children about Iowa agriculture. As of 2019, she was a successful motivational speaker. She is the author of Think It! Work It! Do It! , which is available on Amazon.

What On Earth Has Happened?

As we read the news story about Rice, we couldn’t help but wonder why national baton twirling champions (all organizations included) don’t receive more national news coverage. Shouldn’t they be featured on Good Morning America and the Today Show? Shouldn’t they be heralded on cereal boxes and in the sports editions of every major newspaper? For Pete’s sake, more than 65 years ago, Joyce Rice was welcomed home by the governor of Iowa.

Today, the only news outlets that seem to cover national championships are local outlets in the cities where competitions take place. This is fabulous and of course, everyone appreciates it very much, but a national championship is a national story. National champions should be featured in their hometown papers and frequently they are, but their wins are also national stories. How many national stories featured the competitions in England last summer? I don’t remember seeing any, but maybe I missed them. There’s no doubt in my mind that organized twirling tried!

Does Sports Journalism Discriminate Against Twirlers?

It’s way past time for sports journalism to end their discrimination of baton twirlers. The lack of coverage is actually obscene and disrespectful to our national and world champion athletes. Even state and regional winners and champions should be approrpiately recognized by local and state media. There are solutions to these problems, but they take time, money and manpower that I honestly don’t think is available to organized twirling.

We have published hundreds of images on the Vintage Twirler. There isn’t one that we’ve published that hasn’t deepened our gratitude for the people that have kept twirling alive, especially the coaches. They have literally kept a sophisticated sport going for little more than a song. We have a lot of ideas for how to solve the recognition problems facing twirling, but to be honest, it’s all we can do to keep this tiny hobby blog populated with content. If we had more time, we’d do formal fundraising, among other things. Maybe someday, when we retire, we can do more, but heck, by then we’ll be vintage bloggers. Huh. But, seriously…

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