Thirty years of twirling, teaching

Story by Kelsey Boyd

“Five, six, seven, eight! Flash, one-spin, two-hand-spin, horizontal, box toss!” These commands may sound a little strange to people who are unfamiliar with baton twirling. For one local woman, however, these words are a daily part of her vocabulary.

June Drain has served as the majorette instructor for Russellville High School since 1992, and has been teaching RHS twirlers their routines each summer since 1971.

June was recently recognized for her many years of service to the Russellville junior high and high school bands at Russellville High School’s 2006 homecoming. Recent problems with her hand, however, have forced her to rely more on verbal teaching than demonstration.

Her recent trip to the hand doctor was encouraging. She received a positive report from her doctor, who is hopeful that her problems can be corrected. Despite the difficulties June has had with her hand, she is still determined to teach.

“I’ve been doing it for a long time,” she said.

Twirling has been a part of June’s life since she was five years old. June grew up in Ozark, where her two sisters were majorettes. She admits that she only started twirling because her sisters did.

“I liked it, but it was no big deal.”

When June started playing in the school band, she was more interested in playing her saxophone than in baton twirling.

“The first time I tried out for majorette, I didn’t make it,” June said. Although she was a little disappointed about not making the majorette line, she found comfort in the fact that she would be able to spend more time on her instrument.

June ended up making the majorette line the next year. She twirled her baton and continued to play her saxophone throughout high school. When it came time for college, June decided to attend Arkansas Tech University.

“I debated trying out for majorette at Tech,” June said. She said would rather be playing her saxophone under the instruction of Gene Witherspoon, who was affectionately known by his students as “Chief Witherspoon.”

With much coaxing, June hesitantly tried out for and made the Tech majorette line her freshman year.

As the semester progressed, June’s exceptional twirling skills caught Chief Witherspoon’s eye, and he recruited her to teach lessons at band camp. June said she was “a bit freaked out” by the offer, but she accepted it anyway.

“So that’s how I got into it—rather reluctantly,” she said. June has been to every band camp at Arkansas Tech since the first one in 1964. “I came to the first one as a 6th grader and went through as a student, then a college counselor, and eventually an instructor with my degree in music,” she said.

Being a novice baton teacher, June asked other twirlers to give her pointers in teaching lessons at band camp.

“I got help from another instructor brought in for the camp that I roomed with. She went to UCA – there weren’t any other Tech twirlers teaching at the camp,” June said. The more she taught, the more June became comfortable as a majorette line instructor. She picked up a few individual students and began teaching private lessons.

After one of her preparation practices for band camp her junior year, June recalls being extremely sore. “I’m too old to be doing this anymore,” she thought, as a 20-year-old. “I’m going to have to quit this.” Little did she know, she would still be twirling 30 years later.

June got married during her junior year at Tech. At that time, married women were not allowed to perform. Chief Witherspoon wanted to continue to use June’s twirling skills. “I continued to teach the camps, but did not work with the Tech twirlers until a number of years later when Hal Cooper came to Tech.”

She continued to learn tricks from other girls and began making up moves of her own. Before long, Pat Ellison, the band director at Gardner Junior High School, asked June to help with the junior high line.

“Pat had me work with the girls every summer for several years, and brought me in on occasion to help during the fall,” June said. At one summer camp for twirlers only, the GJHS twirlers, instructed by June, won the overall “Best Line” award, beating out even the high schools represented. Jerry Ratzlaff at GJHS eventually set June up with a regular practice schedule with the girls.

Dardanelle High School’s band also asked June to instruct its majorette line.

“I was teaching regularly at Dardanelle at the same time I taught at Russellville,” June said.

In one of June’s later years in college, a majorette instructor from Stephen F. Austin University in east Texas was brought in to teach a camp who forever changed the way June twirled. June said, “Her ‘dancy’ style of twirling just clicked with mine.”

This new style of twirling immediately caught June’s attention.

“This is it!” she remembers thinking. She explained how this particular style of twirling is like “dancing with a baton in your hand.”

June had found her niche. She tweaked the style and made it her own. She quickly taught the Dardanelle girls the new style she had learned. “They were good. They were really good,” June recalls.

In addition to helping with the GJHS and DHS majorette lines, June took girls to twirling competitions in Oklahoma and Arkansas. She continued to teach private lessons throughout college. She has also taught summer twirling lessons to majorette lines in Cabot, Waldron, North Little Rock, Fort Smith Northside, Charleston, Mt. Ida, and Morrilton.

After graduating from Tech, June started teaching at DHS and GJHS full time. She was also keeping up with her private lessons. After having three children within the next few years, June decided to take it easy and spend as much time with her children as possible.

“The pressure to keep up with current dance styles was too much,” June said. She remembers thinking, “I can’t do all this.” She decided to quit teaching at GJHS and Dardanelle.

After hearing of her mom’s decision to drop some twirling activities, Esther, June’s eldest daughter, begged her to keep teaching the junior high line so she could learn under her mother’s instruction. June remained the GJHS majorette line instructor and taught both her daughters as they came through junior high.

As students were introduced to more school activities, both the Russellville high school and junior high majorette lines scheduled their practices before school. June was forced to quit the junior high line.

“Leaving the junior high line killed me,” she said. “I missed it in a lot of ways.”

June focused primarily on Russellville High School’s majorette line. “I had quit teaching Dardanelle the year before and Mr. Beard asked me to “give just a little help” because he did not have anyone else. This became more permanent the next year,” June said.

She instructs RHS girls to this day.

June Drain’s dedication to baton twirling is unmatched. Over the years, she has devised countless routines and tricks for majorettes across Arkansas and led many girls in winning competitions. In short, June loves twirling. Any girl who takes lessons from June should feel privileged, because she is learning from one of the best in the business.

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