in focus: the modernettes

They’ve done it again.

The Modernettes, a South Park based baton-twirling group, won first place at the World Twirling Championship in Lignano Sabbiadoro in northeastern Italy. This is the eighth win for the team.

Four young women from Mt. Lebanon are members of the team: Laurel Cooper, 12th grade; Mandy Cooper, 8th grade; Jenna Maloney, 10th grade and Madison Bartone, 8th grade.

Expectations ran high before the group left for Italy. “We want gold,” Bartone said at a practice. The other three Mt. Lebanon girls agreed. “It’ll still be a great experience if we don’t, though,” Laurel Cooper added.

Over the years the Modernettes have represented the United States in every World Championship since the event started in 1990 and won eight world titles. They’ve performed at the Blue Water Festival in Michigan, the World’s Fair in New York, the Grand Ole Opry, as the opening act for Bobby Vinton at Heinz Hall and the WPXI My Macy’s Holiday parade in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Modernettes, left to right, Laurel Cooper, Jenna Maloney, Mandy Cooper and Madison Bartone
Modernettes, left to right, Laurel Cooper, Jenna Maloney, Mandy Cooper and Madison Bartone.

Before the competition, the team practiced in hangars at the Allegheny County Airport. The huge space allowed the girls, dressed in black sweatshirts and yoga pants, to dance, twirl, slide into full splits, jump off ladders and juggle one, two, three batons in the air high above their pony-tailed heads. And that was just a practice run.

Ruby Daugherty co-founded the group in 1959. Back then, the Modernettes marched in fire department parades during the summer months two to three times a week. Daugherty still attends the Modernette practices. “I love the girls,” Daugherty said, as she watched the routine unfold.

Sherri Parisi, Modernettes coach and Daugherty’s daughter, directed the girls during their practice routine. Her voice echoed across the airplane hangar. Parisi yelled, “On your toes! Go!” as the girls hustled. When the team finished the routine, they gathered around Sherri. Her voice softened as she told them what they did well and what they could do better.

The Modernettes performed the same routine at the World Championship, trading their black yoga pants for red, white and blue Team USA uniforms.

Bartone says she wasn’t nervous in the days leading up to the competition. But then, when the time to perform finally came, one routine the team from Holland performed made the girls nervous. “We thought we were going to lose,” Bartone says. But she said she would still have the support of her teammates.

“It’s nice to have the team work together and know they’ll be there,” Bartone says. “I like that I have a team to rely on.”