Meet ‘the girl who twirls fire’ at APSU’s home football games
The way Izzy Melvin describes it, time slows down on the football field.
“You find this part of yourself, and you become one with the baton – everything is silent when you’re on the field – it has always been me and my baton, it becomes an extension of yourself,” she said.
You might know Melvin. She’s the one who twirls fire during halftime at Austin Peay home football games. You know she’s good, but do you know how good?
Melvin won the national and world open three-baton championships in 2016 and the advanced three-baton Twirl Mania International Championships at Disney World the same year.
And, yes, that’s twirling three batons simultaneously (albeit not while they’re on fire).
This year she finished 16th at her first Collegiate Twirling Championships, competing for Austin Peay against 82 twirlers from universities across the country.
“People say, ‘Hey, you’re the girl who twirls fire, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I am,’” Melvin said. “That’s my little celebrity moment.”
WISDOM FROM A 17-YEAR-OLD BATON TWIRLER
Here’s another wow moment: Melvin won’t turn 18 until after the 4 p.m. game between Austin Peay and Murray State on Saturday, Nov. 17. Her birthday is on Sunday.
But the youthfulness is deceiving. She has competed in baton twirling for 12 years, and she speaks with much more wisdom than typical 17-year-olds.
That’s evident when Melvin describes the moments before she performs.
“When you’re in a stadium, people can’t help but to look at you because you’re that visual effect for the band, you’re there for them to watch,” she said. “That’s my job.
“When I’m on the field, I’m usually really nervous before the start, then I hear my mom and my coach in my head,” she added. “I hear them say, ‘Trust in your training,’ and I think, ‘If I mess up this time, it’s not like I can’t come out and prove myself the next time.
“Failure is always something we have to learn from.”
Plus, her parents, Sheila and Tony Melvin, drive 8-12 hours every home game weekend to support her. After all, somebody (her mom) has to help her set the batons afire.
FROM GRASS LAKE HIGH TO AUSTIN PEAY
As her high school days wound to a close, Melvin toured universities across the South. She craved warmer weather.
Her parents suggested she find a college with a strong graphic design and animation program. Finding a college that accommodated her baton twirling was secondary, she said.
“The second I stepped on the grounds here, I knew this is where I wanted to be,” Melvin said. “My mom looked at me after the orientation, and she said, ‘This is where you’re going to go, I already see it in your face.
“For me, it was a done deal, and I hadn’t even met with Mr. (John) Schnettler.” Schnettler is Austin Peay’s director of athletic bands.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better band director,” Melvin said. “He’s so outgoing. He’s so awesome.”
A key Austin Peay hiring in 2015 also clinched the deal for Melvin. That’s when Austin Peay hired Scott Raymond, former animator for DreamWorks Animation, as assistant professor in animation.
MORE TWIRLING TO COME FROM IZZY
Melvin is taking a long break from baton competitions because she’s devoting her efforts to the band and to school. She’s also lobbying to twirl at Governors basketball and volleyball games.
When she returns to the competition floor, several months will pass. She’s planning on competing at the Miss Majorette of Tennessee and Tennessee State Twirling championships on April 20, 2019.
“It’s weird for me not to be training Tuesdays or Thursdays or with my team (the Saline Twirlettes) all the time,” Melvin said.
She and her teammates trained nine hours every day during the summer.
“I remember being so tired and my body hurting so bad.”
But she knows she owes much to the sport.
“It’s prepared me to go to college,” Melvin said. “It’s taught me to express myself, it’s taught me hard work and determination, it’s really something that has all those foundations to learn, and in a fun way.
“I want to teach it, it’s been such a big part of my life, and I’ve learned so much from it.”