From 1957 to 1961, music major Janet Kay Smith ’61 was The Girl, the featured twirler—and only female—in the Syracuse University Marching Band, then known as “100 Men and a Girl.” John Dean ’59, a paper science engineering student in the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, was one of the 100 men, playing clarinet.
Their college romance led to a wedding in Hendricks Chapel, and a 50-plus-year marriage. The Deans—both of whom depended on scholarships to help finance their college educations—credit Syracuse University with much of their success. Inspired to give others the same opportunity, they have established the Janet Kay Smith Feature Twirler Scholarship.
Take it Away, Janet Kay!
Jan Dean began taking twirling lessons when she was 10 years old. After winning a number of twirling competitions and traveling the world with a group called “Kids from Home” in high school, she looked for scholarship support for her college education. Although she had scholarship offers from other colleges, she took the long train ride from her hometown, Flora, Illinois, to Syracuse when she had the chance to audition for the part of featured twirler.
“My parents and I worked diligently to advance my twirling abilities and enhance my opportunities for scholarships,” she says. “I did the audition and won the scholarship.”
Jan led the 100 Men for her four years at Syracuse University. “When the announcers introduced me before a game, they would say ‘Take it away, Janet Kay!’ ” she says. “I would throw my baton over the goal posts and off we went. It was so exciting.”
The phrase “Take it away, Janet Kay!” was coined by former SU Marching Band clarinetist Robert Chancia ’58, who wrote many of the band’s scripts for the halftime shows. It was his best friend, Joe Karam, who shouted it over the PA system.
Band membership for instrumentalists was opened to women 1966, but the tradition of having a featured twirler continues. “It was very exciting to be the featured twirler,” Jan Dean says. “Being on the field was a whirlwind of activity, and I think it’s the same for the Orange Girl today.”
Being able to fully fund the scholarship for future Orange Girls is a goal the Deans hope can be reached quickly. They invite others with ties to the band and twirlers—and anyone who believes in continuing this SU tradition—to join them in the effort. “Our marching band is relatively underfunded, compared to schools in the Big 10 and the SEC,” says John Dean. “We need to stay competitive in regard to talent, as well as the ability to financially support it. That’s so important.”
Chancia agrees. “I appreciate history and value tradition,” he says. “It’s vital that we don’t lose the ‘Orange Girl.’ I strongly believe it’s a tradition that we need not only hang on to, but enhance. Guard the tradition!”
Orange Girl Meghan Sinisi ’17
What’s your major and hometown?
I’m a communication sciences and disorders major in the College of Arts and Sciences, and I’m from Altoona, Pennsylvania.
When did you start baton twirling?
I started twirling when I was three years old. My mom and her sisters twirled when they were young, so when their baton teacher moved back to Altoona, my mom put me in lessons with her. She thought I would enjoy the sport. She was right.
What’s it like to be the Orange Girl?
It’s everything I dreamed it would be and more. When it comes to twirling, I love being in the spotlight and showing audiences what I’ve been working on, so it’s very rewarding. Because it’s such a visible position, I always have to be mindful of what I say and do, but I really enjoy showing my Syracuse pride and school spirit.
What was it like to meet Janet Kay (Smith) Dean?
It was an amazing experience! Last year, as a freshman, I wasn’t able to meet many twirling alumni, so it was very exciting to meet Jan and her husband, especially because of her passion for the twirling position. She’s a very sweet woman who genuinely cares about the twirlers, and that’s just so great to see.
Do you twirl a fire baton, as Jan Dean did?
I do! I can twirl up to three fire batons at once. I also throw knives, which isn’t much different from twirling batons, but they’re shaped and weighted differently, so you’re limited. In high school, my baton coach suggested I learn different novelties to add variety to my performances. I frequently change up my routines to keep the crowd engaged and on their toes.
What has been your most exciting experience so far?
Twirling in the pre-game show at Super Bowl XLVIII.
Have you been having fun as the featured twirler?
Practices and performances on top of classes and schoolwork keep me very busy, but I thrive on a jam-packed schedule. Even when things get tough, every performance is a reminder of why I’m here and why I work so hard. I love what I do here at Syracuse University.