It’s halftime at a USC football game at the Coliseum, and some students are heading up the aisle to get some snacks.They stop when a fire erupts.Looking back toward the field, they see flames tossed high into the sky, standing out against the backdrop of the night. The Olympic torch that rests at the top of the Coliseum is not lit yet, so the flames must have another source. The spinning flames reach the arc of their flight and start to fall.Underneath the flames, Emily Clapper impatiently waits. She seems oblivious to the flame dancing just dozens of feet above her head and falling fast. She does a few graceful twists and looks up just in time to catch the baton with a ball of fire at either end. She smiles to the 80,000 people watching as she twists the baton in her hands a few times and tosses it back up in the air.Clapper, a senior majoring in health promotion and disease prevention, is a baton twirler in the Trojan Marching Band. Although most kids who go to a USC football game in the Coliseum idolize the football players and Song Girls, Clapper had her eyes elsewhere.Ever since she was little, she dreamt of hearing her name announced at the Coliseum as a USC twirler by legendary announcer Dennis Packer. She set a goal in second grade to turn her dream into a reality, which is something we all can learn from.Too many times, kids dream about becoming a firefighter, astronaut or ball player, and though sometimes people’s interests change, most of the time society decides that making those dreams a reality is impossible and discourages it. Although twirling won’t be Clapper’s profession, she nevertheless sought out her passion and pursued what she loved — even though she had no idea where it might take her.“It was a goal. I never knew it was actually going to happen,” Clapper said. “That’s what I wanted to do and I was going to do everything I can to make it happen and twirl at USC.”Clapper’s dad, a USC alumnus, has been taking her to Trojan football games for as long as she can remember, where she was immediately attracted to the twirlers.“They were highly visible,” she said. “I thought they were beautiful and really cool and their names were announced.”Clapper started twirling in second grade at St. Theresa Catholic School in Palm Springs, Calif. She joined an after-school program and performed at malls, in parades and during assemblies. Three years later, she got her first big break when Lynn Mallotto, a former twirling national champion who had a son one year older than Clapper, partnered up with Clapper’s after-school coach. Mallotto is still Clapper’s coach to this day.As more kids dropped out of twirling in middle school and high school to pursue sports or music, Clapper stuck with it. By her sophomore year in high school, she was the only student left that Mallotto took under her wing. Even though Clapper found success at nationals in the summer between high school and college, her goal hadn’t changed.“I didn’t want to be the best twirler in the world or whatever; I just wanted to twirl at USC,” Clapper said. “So that was my goal in my twirling life and I knew that twirling at USC meant that I had to have the grades and everything to get into USC before I could even be a twirler here. Everything I did in high school was to prepare for my career at USC.”When it came time to choose what college she would attend, Clapper picked USC before twirling tryouts.However, twirling tryouts came in April of her senior year of high school. She only had one other person to compete against, but there was a twist that she wasn’t prepared for. She had to try out in front of the entire marching band.Twirlers try out at the same time as the drum majors, the person who dresses up as Tommy Trojan, and because the band votes on the new drum major, they also vote on the new twirler. But many band members don’t know much about the intricacies of twirling.“Oh my gosh, it was so scary,” Clapper said. “The band is literally there judging you and deciding if you’re going to fit in with the band and if they’re going to like you. So all the band really knows is if you look the part and you don’t drop [the baton].“Fortunately, band director Arthur C. Bartner has the final say of who gets the twirling gig, and Clapper found out it was her that night. She hasn’t looked back and she’s been twirling at USC football and basketball games ever since. Clapper has also performed at two Rose Bowls and the many exotic places the band travels to, including Hawaii and Brazil.“It’s seriously the experience of a lifetime,” Clapper said. “I felt like it was so special for me.”Clapper, who can twirl as many as three batons at a time, says USC will be the final stop of her twirling career. She starts her master’s program in public health in the spring and doesn’t want to compete individually because she feels burned out after exhaustively competing in high school.But for the rest of her life, she won’t forget the experience of twirling at the Coliseum and hearing her name announced over the speakers of the Coliseum. Announcer Packer approached Clapper at the Stanford game a few weeks ago and complimented her on her fire-twirling abilities.For Clapper, that perfected her dream that came true.“Spittin’ Sports” runs every Thursday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eric Dungey walked past Tim Lester on his way to the podium and couldn’t get by without the offensive coordinator taking a jab.“First half he was getting down on himself a little bit … speak of the devil,” Lester said as Dungey opened the door to the interview room. “Talking about how the corner opened you up pretty good.”Lester — referring to a play where Dungey was laid out from his blind side — pointed out a red mark on Dungey’s neck that he joked came from that play. The true freshman laughed it off, and a brief “that felt good” followed as he continued on his way.Dungey wasn’t in any sort of jovial mood until early in the fourth quarter, when he found Steve Ishmael on a 53-yard touchdown pass to put Syracuse up 27-17. For the first two-plus quarters, the true freshman played like one. He completed 4-of-7 passes for 35 yards in the first half to go along with 4 rushing yards on four attempts.But starting with a scrambling sidearm throw to Brisly Estime on the second drive of the second half that turned into the third-longest passing play in program history, Dungey emerged. The freshman signal-caller went 4-of-6 for 186 yards and two touchdowns in the latter 30 minutes, leading Syracuse (2-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) to a 30-17 win over Wake Forest (1-1, 1-1) in front of 26,670 in the Carrier Dome Saturday afternoon.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“Ever since the first day that kid came I knew he was something special,” Ishmael said. “I always tell him, just keep your head up and keep working.”The Dungey-starter era began with two completed passes and a nifty double-option flip to hybrid Ben Lewis for 17 yards. But after the pocket collapsed on him for a third-down sack later that drive, he couldn’t get in a rhythm for the rest of the first half.Head coach Scott Shafer attributed Dungey’s struggles to missed reads on triple-option sets and a couple missed throws. After a play where Dungey sailed the ball past everybody, Shafer said the sideline thought, “Who’s he throwing to?”“He was madder at himself than I was mad at him, to be quite honest with you,” Shafer said. “… He had some freshman moments. That’s going to happen.”Demon Deacons quarterback John Wolford threw two interceptions that turned into 10 SU points, but the Orange couldn’t capitalize on much more while WFU’s quarterback accounted for two scores himself.After a three-and-out on Syracuse’s first drive of the second half, Dungey went down the line of starting offensive linemen sitting on the bench and gave them each high-fives before retreating to his own seat.They were shielding him for the most part, but at that point Dungey only had one completion to a wide receiver — a 9-yard screen to Estime on the first pass of the game.“It all started with the linemen up front, though, they’re giving me time,” Dungey said. “Without time, I can’t really do anything.”On the next drive, Dungey made good use of that time as he scrambled and spun around near his own goal line. The pass, completed to Estime, was then taken about 65 yards to the end zone down the middle of the field.Dungey jogged down the field, trailing the play as he calmly pumped his right fist.“That’s the guy that we recruited,” Shafer said.Ishmael’s score elicited a more boisterous reaction, as Dungey turned to the Wake Forest sideline and jumped up and down, aggressively clapping his hands.The normally subdued, self-critical freshman had come alive.And after setting up in shotgun formation on fourth-and-1 from Wake Forest’s 38, Dungey pooch-punted the ball to pin the Demon Deacons at their own 10. Wolford netted -4 yards on the ensuing drive and couldn’t regain the pace that put Syracuse in a halftime deficit.His final action of the day — a kneel with 28 seconds left — calmly ended Dungey’s first collegiate start as the clock ticked to triple-zeros. A tranquil ending to a once-frantic game that saw a new era in Syracuse football begin with a win.“In good time we just keep leading him forward,” Shafer said. “He’ll be a very good quarterback, but we have to play great defense. We have to be able to run that ball and create some big plays to help him in his growth.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on September 12, 2015 at 4:03 pm Contact Matt: email@example.com | @matt_schneidman