By Don Wallace

Michaela Tennison will need a globe to show what she did on summer vacation.

Tennison, 14, a freshman student at The Brook Hill School, is learning geography first-hand with her many travels.

She competed in the Texas State Twirling Championships in April and placed second in solo, one baton; second in two baton; first in strut, state, junior and grand champion; first in three baton, state and junior champion.

In the USTA Central Regional Championships held in Flower Mound she was first in the advance solo open, first in the advance open strut, first in the advance two baton and first in the regional three baton (13-16 age group).

She will compete at the USTA National in Daytona Beach, Fla., on July 12-19 and then in August will travel to Limerick, Ireland, to represent the United States in the World Twirling Championships. She will also be twirling with the Dixie Diamond Team from Shreveport, La., in an international meet.

Tennison is coached by Jackie Stewart and Texas East Gymnastics owner Kathy Parsley. Her team coach is Vickie LeBrume.

“I think competing last year in international competition in Canada was a real boost to her,” said her mother, Alicia Tennison of the competition in Hamilton, Ontario. “She competed in just one event (three baton) and got second place. She could see that she’s good enough to compete with the best twirlers. It was great for her confidence.”

This time in Ireland she will be going up against the top 14 countries in the world in three events.

“The Japanese are really tough competition; so are the Canadians,” said Alicia Tennison.

To make the international event she had to qualify in solo, two and three baton and be in the top six in the United States.

“It’s real exciting. I know I need to practice just about every day,” Tennison said. “So I practice because I want to get better.”

In Jacksonville she practices at Sunset Baptist Church’s family life center because of the high ceilings. She avoids the summer sun by practicing outdoors near her home after sunset.

Michaela’s mother, a former Jacksonville twirler, was a band director at Rusk when her daughter showed an interest in the sport.

“She always saw girls twirling when I was at Rusk working with the band and at Cherokee Gym. She had been taking gymnastics, but decided to try twirling when she was just 4 years old. She’s stayed with it this long. It’s her decision to keep twirling. We’re proud of what she’s accomplished.”

Ten years later Michaela is still twirling and advancing her talent by leaps and bounds.

“She’s good; she is very good. I see things in her I had not seen in a student in a while. She’s the best twirler in this area. She’s the reason I came out of retirement,” said Parsley. “I would not be teaching her if she did not have significant talent. She is working hard to be a national champion one day and I like her work ethic. I believe she can do anything she decides to accomplish.”

Parsley, who has been involved with coaching for decades says the combination of talent, drive and ability in Tennison is very special.

“I work with her weekly and she is always eager to put the work in. She’s as pleasant and focused at the end of a two and half hour workout as she was when it started,” Parsley said. “She’s the best twirler we have had at this age at our gym. She loves it; she has a real competitive spirit about her. When you have her talent and combine it with hard work ... it makes her a real joy to work with. She’s the perfect person for me to coach.”

Parsley pointed out that Michaela has other interests outside of twirling. She plays the violin in The Brook Hill orchestra, she also is an honor student.

“She’ll have an opportunity to twirl in college if she wants to, no doubt about it,” Parsley said of the teen. “She is already beating girls much older than her. Her talent is developed to where some twirlers get when they are 18 to 21.”

In a recent competition for a national position, Tennison lost by .43 of a point to a feature twirler at Baylor University. The BU twirler is 22, some eight years older than Michaela. She often beats older teens in state and national action.

Twirling at football games is how many people in this area are associated with the sport. But twirling on the international stage is a completely different discipline.

“Twirling is not big here like it is in California or New York,” Parsley said. “Michaela has been blessed, she competes well and one of the best in not only the state, but the nation. What she is doing is so exciting. To get to travel and compete like she does is a big thing for her and our gym.”

She is the daughter of Randy and Alicia Tennison of Jacksonville; the granddaughter of Dudley and Dot Waller and James and Pat Tennison of Jacksonville.

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