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Golden twirler to be honored at homecoming

Shirlee Bertolini, center, poses with members of the UA Twirling team Yesterday;. Bertolini was the first twirler at the UA and this weekend she will be honored for her 50 years of service to the university.
By Georgeanne Barrett
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, October 29, 2004
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'Grand Dame' was first twirler at UA, coach for past 50 years

The "Grand Dame" of baton twirling, who has kept the UA twirling for a half a century, will be honored this weekend for her many years of dedication to the university.

Shirlee Bertolini, coach of the UA Twirling Line, will be honored during Homecoming activities this weekend for her 50 years of service and dedication.

Bertolini was the first recruited twirler to come to the UA, when she moved from Detroit in 1954.

"It's overwhelming," Bertolini said. "It doesn't seem like 50 years have passed."

Bertolini was the Michigan State and National Twirling Champion from 1953 to 1954. Of the 110 competitions Bertolini entered during her career as a twirler, she won 107.

Bertolini, who earned a bachelors degree in psychology from the UA in 1958, became coach of the "Twirling Circus" after her days as a student ended. After 1980, the name of the Twirling Circus changed to the UA Twirling Line.

"It's been wonderful having all this support from the UA in letting me be here," Bertolini said.

Over the course of 50 years, this woman has brought amazing talent to the university community.

- Jay Rees, director of UA's Pride of Arizona Marching Band


Bertolini, who recruits state and national champions for the UA team, has led the twirling line to be the largest collegiate team in the country with 16 members.

Every penny of her salary goes to the Shirlee Bertolini Scholarship Fund, which she started to help the members of the twirling line.

Megan Costolo, co-captain of the UA Twirling Line, said every girl on the team gets something from the scholarship fund Bertolini has set up for the team.

"My main concern has been to help the girls get an education, and to help them financially," Bertolini said.

Jay Rees, director of UA's Pride of Arizona Marching Band, said Bertolini is a "remarkable woman" who truly deserves to be honored for her years of dedication.

"Over the course of 50 years, this woman has brought amazing talent to the university community," Rees said. "We have benefited so much that I think it is time for us to say thank you."

Rees said though baton twirling is not as popular today as it was 50 years ago, Bertolini has kept it alive at the UA.

"Her program is every bit as amazing and successful as Lute Olson's, it just doesn't get the attention," Rees said. "Shirlee has kept twirling vibrant and valid."

Shirli Bertolini twirls fire in an American Indian costume as part of a performance in 1955. Bertolini will be celebrating her 50th year of involvement with UA twirling during Saturday's homecoming game against Oregon State.

Rees said during the Homecoming football game Saturday, President Peter Likins will introduce Bertolini, and Rees and Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup will present Bertolini with a copper plaque from the City of Tucson on the field during halftime. The halftime show will feature representatives of five decades of former twirlers performing in honor of Bertolini.

Rees also said during the game special pictures and memorabilia of Bertolini from over the years will be displayed on the jumbo screen.

"I think band spirit groups, we take them for granted," Rees said. "The community expects to see them. It is important to stand up and recognize their dedication."

Gregg Hanson, director of the marching band, said he is glad to honor Bertolini in her 50th year at the UA because he said the university is a better place because of her presence here.

"It is indeed unusual for anyone to have devoted an entire career to one area," Hanson said. "It is even more unusual to do it with such grace, personal commitment, love, compassion and devotion."

Other accomplishments Bertolini achieved over her years with the UA Twirling Line were convincing former UA director of bands Jack Lee to let her wear shorts on the field though women at that time were not permitted to wear shorts on campus.

Bertolini also increased the number of twirlers on the team so they would be able to spell out ARIZONA.

Costolo, a nursing senior, said Bertolini has been an amazing coach and said it is great she is being honored for her hard work.

"I think it is exciting because she has been here for so long," Costolo said. "She is one of those people who would do anything to help any of us. She works so hard and has done so much."

Homecoming activities honoring Bertolini will be Friday through Sunday.

Activities in Bertolini's honor include a bench dedication at the Alumni Plaza Dedication on the UA Mall.

She will also receive the Bear Down Award at the Homecoming Kickoff Dinner Friday recognizing her as someone who has performed noteworthy service at the UA. Bertolini will be in the Homecoming Parade with the UA Alumni Marching Band, who will hold the first UA Twirler reunion in Bertolini's honor.

Shirlee Bertolini

Honoring a

UA legend

4Today, 5-6 p.m. Alumni Plaza

dedication on the UA Mall. The event will include a bench dedication as a gift to Bertolini from UA Band and community donors.

4Today, 6-8 p.m. Homecoming Kickoff Dinner at Bear Down Bash. Bertolini will receive the Bear Down Award. The award is given to an individual who has performed noteworthy and meritorious service on behalf of the UA.

4Saturday, 1 p.m. Homecoming Parade, UA Mall. Bertolini will ride in a convertible ahead of the UA Alumni Marching Band. The band will feature some of Bertolini's former twirlers who will hold the first UA twirler reunion in Bertolini's honor.

4Saturday, 4 p.m. Arizona Stadium, UA vs. Oregon State game. The half-time show will feature five decades of former twirlers performing in Bertolini's honor. UA President Peter Likins will present Bertolini and Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup will present her with a copper plaque from the city.

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