Paula’s School of Baton
“My cousin took baton lessons, so I wanted to take them,” says Paula McAdoo of idolizing her older cousin. Little did Paula know that she would go on to become a rarity in the realm of baton: Paula is one of the few instructors who operates a school specializing in baton and dance as a full-time business.
Drivers rarely hope that they will need to stop for a red traffic light. I qualify as the exception. When our offices were in Mount Joy, stopping for that red light at Main and South Market streets was something I didn’t mind doing. It meant I could sit and watch the students at Paula’s School of Baton practice in the school’s parking lot. They are amazing to watch! What I didn’t know at the time is that prowess with a baton has provided Paula’s students with the ability to lead the pre-game and half-time festivities at such football powerhouses as Penn State, West Virginia, Tennessee, Clemson and the list goes on.
As for Paula, who is the mother of two daughters and the very proud grandmother of a grandson, her career dates to her days as a student at Hempfield High School, when she twirled for the Black Knights during half-time shows of football games and marched in community parades. A few years after graduating, she began teaching at a performing arts school in Hanover, York County. Traveling back and forth became tiresome, so Paula began searching for studio space in Lancaster County. She rented a “shoebox-sized studio” in Mount Joy. Many of her students followed her there. “That studio went from 0 to 100 students in a year’s time,” she recalls.
The success of the studio prompted the need for a larger space and 38 years ago, Paula came upon a location along Main Street. Dating to the late 1800s, the imposing brick building had seen service as a silent movie theatre (the ticket window remains at the foot of a grand spiraling staircase), a ballroom dancing studio and a hat factory. “It was as if that building was calling to me,” she says. “There’s so much history within these walls.”
Initially, the school was relegated to the second floor, but growth and the eventual availability of the first floor enabled Paula’s to expand. “Our students represent nine school districts,” Paula says of the school’s reach throughout Lancaster County, as well as from York County and the Hershey area. The school also spans generations, as many siblings and even the mothers of present-day students are alumni of Paula’s. Growth also enabled the school to add dance to the repertoire. According to Paula, dance complements baton, as the best twirlers are blessed with flexibility, which dance can help to provide.
That generational connection aids in the school’s continued success. As with any sport or artistic endeavor, dedication on the parts of students and families is important. “Baton is a year-round endeavor,” Paula notes of classes that span beginner to elite levels. Summer sees students arrive for camp sessions and special workshops.
Competing at the top level (state and national competitions and being a member of special teams) incurs added expenses for travel and custom costumes. However, in the case of Paula’s School of Baton, support seems to know no bounds. “Our families are fantastic,” Paula says. “I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to come in here and see dads painstakingly attaching sequins to costumes,” she says. Parental support is vital, and Paula explains that conferences with parents are always held prior to a student being promoted to the ranks of a competition team. “We want them to be fully aware of what that will entail” from a time and monetary standpoint.
For next year’s national competition, Paula anticipates that as many as 60 families will make the trip. Family and friends also turn out to be a part of the audience for the annual Spring Showcase, the most recent of which was held in late May at Donegal High School.
That sense of a generational connection – and commitment – kicks in early, as many of the older students mentor the younger ones. “Because they spend so much time together, our students develop long-lasting friendships,” Paula remarks. “Their teammates understand the sacrifices they make to participate, whereas their school friends often don’t.”
Still, it’s the students who ultimately make the decision to devote themselves to an art form they have grown to love. “We are well-ranked on the national scene,” Paula reports. “A lot of our students would be here every day if they could,” she adds. To ward off burnout, classes take a hiatus after nationals in mid-July and resume in September.
The students’ devotion became obvious during the pandemic. “We were closed from March to June of 2020,” Paula recalls. “It was tough on our students not to be able to come here. They needed that physical outlet. When we were able to reopen – we held classes outdoors – it was not easy, but we followed all the mandates and got through it. Everyone was so happy to be back!”
Dedication instills lessons of another kind: discipline, respect and time management among others. Such lessons translate into getting homework done before heading for classes in Mount Joy, as well as prioritizing activities. While the ability to twirl a baton doesn’t lead to college scholarships, academic achievement does. Paula takes pride in the fact that “so many of our students earn academic scholarships.” She notes that over the course of the past few years, many of her students have chosen to forge paths in the direction of medicine. “One of our students is at Yale,” she proudly reports.
Again, the ability to twirl a baton helps in untold ways and in future endeavors. Paula explains that national competitions are almost pageant like, as they involve twirling, a dance routine and a question/answer session. “When it come to college interviews, our girls do great,” she says. Post-college, such poise aids in acing job interviews.
The twirlers on the cover – all national champions – embody the philosophy and lessons learned at Paula’s School of Baton. These young women have all been students of baton from an early age (as young as 2). They all say they have learned invaluable lessons through baton. Maggie Rogers, who will be attending the University of Delaware, names “respect” as a value she came to embrace, explaining that respect extends to teachers, peers and competitors. Sophia Lutz, who is headed for Clemson University, says she will always cherish the friendships she shared with her teammates. “We pushed each other,” she says of dealing with the rigors of competing. Amelia Clark, who will be a student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, echoes those sentiments, noting she appreciated the support of her teammates. Makayla Ober, who will be heading for Penn State, probably best epitomizes the time-management lessons she has learned. In addition to baton, Makayla played field hockey for Donegal High School and works at Mick’s All-American Pub. “You just learn to be responsible for getting everything done,” she says.
Nonetheless, Paula and the other four coaches on staff are aware that an all-work and no-play philosophy can lead to burnout. “We always work some fun activities into the schedule,” she explains. For example, students always take part in Mount Joy’s annual Memorial Day Parade. Marching in Manheim’s Farm Show and Columbia’s Mardi Gras parades are always on the fall calendar. Farther afield, the school’s students have performed in the Citrus Bowl and Miss America parades and took part in a half-time show during a Washington Redskins (now Commanders) game. ‘They love doing those sorts of things,” says Paula.
For more information, visit psbtwirl.com.