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It takes some persistent coercion to convince 17-year-old Rachel Reiss of Wrightsville to pick up a baton on camera. We're sitting in a room at Lancaster Day School, where she is a senior, and I'm doing my best to get her to show me some twirling tricks. It's clear from her body language that she's nervous.

It's those nerves of hers that are surprising - because pretty soon, she'll be performing in front of thousands of cameras and camera phones at Beaver Stadium.

Reiss was named the Blue Sapphire, the featured twirling for the Penn State Blue Band, for the 2014-2015 school year earlier this month. When the news broke, it surprised a lot of her friends.

"I have never performed at school," Reiss explained. "A lot of people didn't really know this [baton twirling] was such a big part of my life, until this year."

"Now that this Penn State thing has happened, everybody knows."

Her passion thus outed, Reiss was surprised by the response she received.

She began working with batons when she was four. "I wanted to take a dance class, but they were all full at the studio," she recalled. "So I did a baton class and just continued with it and got into some competitions."

Fate sealed, she devoted practically every spare moment to baton, with practices on Mondays and Saturdays in Maryland, as well as sessions locally midweek and on Sunday mornings.

It's the challenge that has hooked Reiss.

"Because it's kind of like dance, I do a lot of dance and gymnastics with it - but there's this other component that's pretty unpredictable," she explained.

"Theres a lot of repetition in just doing my routines or sections over and over," she elaborated later. "I could do everything perfectly in practice then go out on the floor and if my hands shake a little bit it all falls apart."

But that's the appeal. "There's always something for me to strive towards," she said. "I will never get bored because there is always something for me to work for."


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