The toughest decision she’s ever made. That’s how Joan Duus would describe her journey towards “passing the baton” to her daughter and former student and thus, retiring from her job as coach of the Pizzazz Star City Twirlers. “When I made the decision to retire, it was totally based on the knowledge that I had someone to pass the baton to. I would never have stopped and left the kids without a coach,” Joan said. Even though it was a hard decision to make, Joan knows it’s the right one.
Since starting to twirl at the age of twelve, Joan continued through high school. However, when asked how she got her start in coaching, she laughs, saying, “it actually all started in my neighborhood!” And that’s true; Joan found the desire to teach at 16 and started coaching a group of kids in her neighborhood. The kids did parades in the neighborhood and then she even started taking them to competitions. She said her greatest two passions are working with kids and twirling, so this was a perfect combination.
After moving to Roanoke in 1975 with her husband and her daughter Tara, and subsequently having three sons, there was a four-year window where she wasn’t coaching at all. Then in 1980, she started her first group here in the Roanoke Valley. It was called the Blue Ridge Bells and they twirled from 1980 until 1984 in Blue Ridge. Then, Joan moved her Baton Corps to Roanoke City where she changed the name of her group to Pizzazz Star City Twirlers. “I was always an independent instructor, and my kids attended Roanoke Catholic School so I rented the gym for my Baton Group from 1984 until 1990,” Joan said. In 1988, Joan and her family moved to the county, where she decided to move her group as well.
Joan has probably had twirlers at every high school in the Roanoke Valley. She has coached for 32 years in the valley and 43 years overall. She even had a student travel from Greensboro once a week and sometimes even twice a week for six years! She’s seen hundreds of kids grow up… she’s coached the kids of her students, and been to the weddings of her students…. watched them get married, watched them have kids. “I absolutely love kids… kids and baton are my passions… putting them together is the best combination I could ask for,” said Joan. In fact, Joan said that she gets more excitement from watching her youngest students learn the basics than the older students when they win the national competition. That’s not to say she doesn’t love watching her students win competitions, she “just loves the process of learning.”
Joan continued to coach as a stay at home mom, and even found she was able to put more time into coaching once her kids got a little older… until… everything changed. Joan and her husband decided to open “Play It Again Sports,” a new & used sporting goods store. They opened the store in 1992; Joan became the full-time manager. So, on top of managing a newly opened retail store and taking care of her kids, she was still coaching three times a week at night. Needless to say, Joan was a very busy woman. But to add to all the other things she was doing, Joan decided to start selling Silpada Jewelry as well. So, now she was an extremely busy woman.
This continued until July 19, 2012, when she decided it was time for something to give. Her team had just completed the National Competition where they placed extremely well. You can see all of the results here, but many students received awards for 1st in National and State either in solo or group performances. She knew it was time to retire from coaching and pass the baton to her former student and assistant coach, Harlie Dale, who is now 21 years old and a junior at Virginia Tech, and one of the schools’ featured twirlers. Joan’s daughter Tara, who recently moved back to the Roanoke Valley from San Diego with her husband, is also helping to carry the baton by coaching with Harlie. Tara has been twirling since she was four years old and was even a majorette at the University of Tennessee. When she first moved to San Diego, she was flying home to Roanoke once a month to help her mother coach the team; now she’s actually leading the team alongside Harlie.
Since Tara and Harlie are continuing the Pizzazz Star City Twirlers, Joan can relax a little now. Both girls have been twirling since they were four years old, so twirling is like living and breathing to them. Tara gives private lessons and choreography for individual students and Harlie does both individual and group lessons and choreography. Right now, there is no beginner program, but according to Joan, “it’s not going away… you just have to have kids coming in,” but Harlie fully intends to continue the beginner program once they can find the space to rent. The older, more experienced students are flourishing.
It may have been a tough decision, but Joan knows that she’s passed the baton on to two of the most capable people in the twirling world. Now, she can focus her time on other things… although, Joan will never completely retire from twirling. Like her daughter Tara and former student Harlie, twirling is in her blood. She may have made the decision to pass the baton, but she’s still holding onto it… after all, it’s her passion.
You can find out more about Joan Duus and The Pizzazz Star City Twirlers from the website: www.pizzazzstarcitytwirlers.com.