Sugar Dolls, in 33rd year, open the door to other areas

CLEWISTON — As the Clewiston Sugar Dolls entered their 33rd season this past week, the well-known troupe is welcoming girls ages 3 through 17 from other Lake Okeechobee area cities as well. Thousands of youths from Hendry County have taken part over the years.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Carmen Fisher
The girls who are in the beginner and intermediate Sugar Dolls classes assemble after a pom-pom practice last week at the Clewiston Youth Center.

Their long history means the Sugar Dolls program needs no introduction, really, around the lake. The group’s participants, who learn and excel in baton twirling, dance, pom-pom, parade corps, flag and novelty styles of marching, have won fame and recognition at every level over the years, including over 20 international titles. They currently hold regional and state championships.

It is one of five groups in Florida that are part of the 5 Star Youth of America. That organization was formed to have activities for youth, the disabled, senior citizens, veterans and those facing physical or mental challenges.

Jackie Tucker and Carmen Fisher direct the girls program, which is run through the Clewiston Parks and Recreation Department and meets at the Youth Center. It features three levels: beginners, intermediate and advanced. Each subgroup meets for an hour of practice every Tuesday beginning at 4 p.m.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Carmen Fisher
Here the girls hold their batons right after preparing for their upcoming performance in the fall festival. In this picture are just the intermediate class and coaches Montana Powell, Jessiania Blanco and Naomi Alvarenga. Victoria Roberts, a fourth coach, was not present.

Classes for this year’s crop of Sugar Dolls started Tuesday, Oct. 2, and will run through May 2020. Registration is in progress at the Clewiston Youth Center, and kids may join year-round.

Ms. Tucker talked about how she got involved:
“I started teaching baton like 55 years ago, right out of high school, and I’ve taught over 30,000 kids. Well, I was asked about 32 years ago to come to Clewiston and teach because it was mainly Broward, Palm Beach and Dade county areas that I was teaching in. Now I even have a place in Clewiston, a townhouse there.

“What we do is we teach them not only batons, but … pom-poms, ribbons, and we try to have a really nice recreational program for the kids. And some of them, we have some girls this year that started even at 3 years old. If they’re mature enough to stay there, well, they’re having fun. So, when you’re having fun, that’s when you learn, right?” She went on: “So we also take them to baton competition and have them enter at both the individual and group levels. Actually, over these years, the Sugar Dolls have even won the international championship in Canton, Ohio. The years that they went to that competition, they won a total of about 22 international titles. But I haven’t taken any to Ohio for a while because … it’s like a football team, you get a real good group and then they graduate and go on to something else.”

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Carmen Fisher
The beginner and intermediate classes strike a pose along with coaches Montana Powell, Jessiania Blanco and Naomi Alvarenga.

In fact, some have gone on to school and come back themselves to teach. Other participants have sent their daughters to join the Sugar Dolls and then watched their granddaughters take part in the fun.

Ms. Tucker said the group goes to local competitions in Lake Worth and around the Palm Beach area. “Also, in Clewiston, the Sugar Dolls and the City of Clewiston have sponsored the regional competition for the past six years; we’ve been the host of it,” she said.

One of their coaches this year just graduated from high school. “There’s one girl that’s teaching them, Montana Powell, she … is now going to college, and she’s one of the main coaches out there.”

According to Ms. Tucker, as of Tuesday they had 22 girls enrolled for this year. “But all the fliers haven’t gone out to all the schools yet, either, so I’m sure by the time we’re through, we’ll have 35 or 40. In the second week of May, we have a banquet and awards party with them.” Classes continue from now until then, she said.

On Saturday, Oct. 12, they will perform at the Clewiston Fall Festival. One of their favorites year after year goes on a few miles north, though.

“One of our main parades of the whole year is the Okeechobee Christmas Parade. We started going there probably about 12 years ago, and the kids just love coming to Okeechobee for that parade. To me it’s one of the nicest ones, period — not just in the area or anything. Okeechobee does a great job with planning that for the community, they really do.”

They compete in a Local Baton Competition each year in Lake Worth and West Palm Beach. For the past six years, they have hosted the Regional Competition at Clewiston High School. Twirlers from all regions come to Clewiston to compete.

Even though we attend competitions with the youth, our most important thing about our program is the home front. Our purpose is to have a great youth program and events for the youth on a recreational level. They attend and perform and shows in the lake area. This includes the aforementioned, plus the Black Gold Festival in Belle Glade, the Chalo Nitka parade in Moore Haven, and more.

The Sugar Dolls practice all school year long from September to the first week of May. Other sponsors include the Howard Hill Foundation and Weekley Brothers Davie Pro Rodeo.

“With baton and pom-pom dancing, they learn grace, poise, confidence while performing, sportsmanship, showmanship and have fun and make new friends,” said Ms. Tucker. “And again, why do I do this? I love baton twirling and I love kids!”

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com.

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