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Most everybody agreed it was wonderful of Calvin to lend his name and presence to the nationals, but the aficionados gave him no chance to defeat Michael Tagg, a 23-year-old twirling instructor from Chicago and a former University of Arizona drum major.
"Calvin does everything wrong," said twirling's foremost teacher, Brooks Going, who won the men's competition last year at age 40. "He twirls backwards counterclockwise. Both feet go up in the air funny on his leaps. He has terrible body work. With formal training, he might have been sensational. But, really, he's a klutz."
Doing his routine in the glare of special TV lights and in the blast of rock concert-type screeching, Murphy hardly seemed a klutz. But he made some terrible gaffes that gave him no chance to outpoint either Tagg or John Chamberlain, another instructor. Murphy dropped his initial high toss, then he flipped his baton nearly to the judges' table before retrieving it. Losing his concentration and seemingly going one-on-one against his own twirls, Murphy lost control of the routine and had three more drops before he settled down to do his " California bounce" trick and two kick-and-catch numbers, one calling for him to race several yards sideways to grab the baton. If not skillful twirling, it was heavy vaudeville. Murphy finished with distinction, hurling the baton halfway to Aspen and catching it behind his back.
Angry with himself, Murphy then made a fine backdoor move, rushing out of the building and refusing to show up for the awards presentation. The next day he said, "It felt like a giant man named Pressure came along and threw me to the ground. I had everything on my mind but twirling. I can't let this lie. If only for my pride, I may come back next year. I still think I'm the best man out there."
The best tot was Crystal Carter, 6, who won strut and solo in the under-8-year-old division. Said her mother Susie, "I put both my daughters into competition before they were 2. Back then they took some knocks from those 6-year-olds, but they've got the edge now. If we're gonna do it, we're gonna do it right."
In versatility and endurance, Marci Papadopoulos had the edge on everybody. A lithe and glowing seventh-grader at Thornton Junior High, Marci has been winning national titles in her age group since she was 5. Her father, Mike, and her mother, the former Maxine Furuike, who says she has been twirling and teaching twirling "forever," operate a nursery and florist shop where Marci helps with the arrangements.
At Denver the only divisional event Papadopoulos failed to win was dance twirl. But her friend, 14-year-old Anita Villarreal from the Fresno Firebirds baton corps, took that title and won the grand prize, too.
In Thursday night's grand finals the Papadopoulos family conceded two-baton and three-baton to the collegiate-division winners, Valerie Ludwick and Debbie Rolph, respectively, both from Richland, Wash. But Rolph made three drops (to Marci's none) and had to rely on her higher degree of difficulty to win the three-baton championship.
Solo and strut, however, were all Marci's. In the first event she performed a near-perfect routine that earned an exceedingly rare 9.9 score from one of the seven judges. While Marci's family and her instructor, Chet Jones, were rejoicing, however, a virtually unknown 10-year-old named Donna Landsome executed some immaculate rolls to rate a high score, too. Indeed, Marci needed every bit of her amazing score in the solo; she beat the precocious Landsome by just one-tenth of a point.
The final strut was not that close. This time Marci marched in as if she were leading a brass band—which she sometimes does at San Francisco 49er games—and proceeded to give another error-free exhibition. She received nine-plus scores across the board and won, as usual, giggling.