SYCAMORE – If they had never twirled a baton with the Marlyn Majorettes, the McCormick sisters wouldn’t have some of their fondest memories.
“I would say going to the Orange Bowl was the biggest and best thing we ever did,” said Mary McCormick Upshir, who attended a reunion of the Marlyn Majorettes and Majors Drum Corps on Saturday in Sycamore with her twin sister, Sarah McCormick.
Marlyn Burkart led a parade corps in the 1950s and later chose 12 baton twirlers to start entering competitions. The McCormicks were two of the 12 original baton twirlers who joined the competition corps when it formed around 1955.
Seven of the 12 were able to make it to Saturday’s reunion at the Sycamore Park District.
The McCormicks, who grew up on a Sycamore farm, were seniors in high school when they won the Orange Bowl title in 1958. It was their first trip to Miami, Fla., and the first time they saw the ocean, ate lobster and saw palm trees.
“Back in the day, they didn’t have sports for girls,” Sarah McCormick said. “Marlyn kind of stepped into that void to give us some place to go.”
“Twirling gave us a lot of experiences we wouldn’t have had,” said Sarah McCormick, noting that they always went to a fancy restaurant, play or museum during their trips.
Most of Burkart’s students, both young and old, have a hard time estimating how many trophies, titles and championships they’ve won during their tenure with the Marlyn Majorettes. And Burkart has a hard time counting just how many students she’s taught in the last six decades.
“Like the stars in the sky – look up and that’s about how many students I’ve had,” she said.
Members of the Marlyn Majorettes and Majors Drum Corps have performed in the Notre Dame Championships, the Grand Ole Opry, the Chicago Christmas Parade and New York’s World Fair.
Longtime Majorette Shelley Fitzgerald of Davis Junction started organizing a reunion 10 years ago for past and present students. This year, she made an effort to reach out to as many members of the “original 12” as she could.
Joy Bowgren Nelson of Geneva started marching with the Marlyn Majorettes in the late 1950s and still twirls baton today in numerous parades, including Pumpkin Festival and Northern Illinois University’s homecoming parade.
“I just like making people smile,” she said. “I like watching people’s faces light up. It’s always a lot of fun.”
Dave Carraher of Elgin spent seven years as a drum corps member.
He said the annual reunion is like seeing family because members of the corps spent so much time with one another, practicing several times a week and competing every weekend.
He still remembers what he considered their perfect show performing “Brian’s Song” in Canada, which made the audience and performers tear up at the end.
“We were so darn good,” Burkart said. “I’m probably one of the luckiest ladies in the world. God blessed me with something special for the kids and I don’t know what I’d do without them.”