On March 28, a local student will travel abroad in search of glory. Pawling High School’s (PHS) Robbie Leske, 14, will be representing his hometown and the United States when he attends the World Federation of National Baton Twirling Association (WFNBTA) World Championships in Lillehammer, Norway. The chance to compete on the global stage is the culmination of nearly nine years or training and devotion, which has already resulted in an impressive resume of accolades for the youth.
Robbie Leske’s path to Norway and a world championship opportunity began at a young age. Introduced to the sport of baton twirling at the age of five, Leske would observe the success of older sister Annamarie when she won a Silver Medal in the 2015 WFNBTA World Championship in Lignano, Italy. Seeing his older sister’s achievement motivated Robbie to follow suit. “Her journey was really inspiring, and I wanted to follow that path,” he says. Like his sister, Robbie Leske joined the Silver Starlites Baton Twirling Team. The travel team, founded in Pawling by Sylvia Utter, has been active since 1972. In addition to travel competitions, members of the Starlites also serve as instructors to help introduce twirling to younger children. “That's how the program was designed, to learn the sport, but also how to teach the sport,” says Robbie’s mother, Teresa Leske.
The sport of baton twirling encompasses many elements for both individual and team competition. Routines are performed as a teams, duets, and individually, with one, two, and three baton variations being incorporated. In some instances batons adorned with flags are used, and routines are choreographed and set to musical scores. Judges evaluate performances on a number of factors, including gracefulness, choreography, execution, complexity, speed, and showmanship.
The road to the WFNBTA World Championships has been filled with accomplishments for Robbie. He has achieved championship success at the regional, state, and national levels, and was pre-teen Men’s Champion 2015, 2016, and 2017 in the two-baton category. He also has the distinction of being the youngest champion in this category for his age bracket. Last July, Robbie punched his ticket to Lillehammer by winning the three-baton event at the National Baton Championship held last July at Notre Dame University. In Norway, he will represent his country in the two-baton performance category.
Robbie will head to Norway, as part of the 134 members of Team USA. The competition lasts one week, and is similar in structure to the Olympic Games, featuring opening and closing ceremonies, and preliminary rounds of competition. There, Leske also has the benefit of being accompanied by the support of his mother, Teresa, and Coach Allison Stuart. In all, twenty-five countries will be represented. “I’m excited to go there to compete, but I’m also nervous,” Robbie explains. “It’s going to be stressful going up against the best in the world.”
Teresa Leske remains unflinching in her confidence about her son, adding: “It’s a lot of pressure on the kids, but he knows how to handle it.”
Only a freshman at PHS, Robbie Leske’s twirling career has been impressive. The trip to Lillehammer only furthers the many impressive benefits that his training and preparation have yielded. Whatever the outcome at the conclusion of the WFNBTA World Championships, Robbie no doubt has a bright future ahead of him both inside and outside of twirling. “This sport teaches you how to win and lose,” explains Teresa Leske. “If you drop, you drop. But you keep going. You stay focused.”