When Tiffany Jockers stood in the crowd at a St. Petersburg’s Festival of States parade at 9-years-old, a small section of the route caught her eye.
Among the colorful floats, cheerful dancers and harmonic bands, she saw twirlers leading the Second Time Arounders band.
“Mom, I want to do that,” Jockers, now a junior majoring in mass communications, recalls telling her mother.
“Tiffany, we’ve already tried everything,” she said her mother responded. Her mother had watched her go through gymnastics, dancing, bowling and ice-skating. She couldn’t watch her daughter fall again while playing sports because of the way she walked – a reverse, toe-first step.
“No, mom, I want to do that,” Jockers said she replied.
At a young age, Jockers said she wanted to be involved in athletics, but developed the habit of walking on her toes instead of the usual heel-toe step. She was fitted into a cast twice, put in braces and nearly had surgery to correct her step.
“They thought I had a problem when it was actually a natural thing,” Jockers said.
That Easter, Jockers received a baton and began twirling at the Florida Twirling Institute.
Florida Twirling Institute Director MelodeeMichalares-Owens, her coach at the time, still recalls her first time teaching Jockers.
“I really thought she had a lot of potential even from the beginning,” Michalares-Owens said. “She was very determined and she had a great support group within her family and she worked hard at it.”
Jockers eventually learned to correct her childhood way of walking, but learned how to use it to her advantage when twirling.
“When you twirl, you have to be pulled up,” Jockers said. “Your body has to be very straight. When you’re flatfooted, you seem to be more relaxed. Since I had a natural tendency to be on my toes, it wasn’t hard to be pulled up.”
Her first national title came six years later, when she was crowned High School Majorette 2006. Jockers followed up that title with the Teen Majorette Queen 2007 national title. She most recently won Senior Majorette Queen 2013 and went to North Carolina to help teach other twirlers.
“I think she’s an asset to baton twirling,” Michalares-Owens said. “A lot of people see her and are impressed.”
She also twirls as a Majorette at USF, where she’s developed a connection with her fans, who refer to her as “fire girl” due to the flaming baton routine she performed during halftime at USF football games.
“My sophomore year, when I came off the field after doing ‘fire,’ there was a gentleman that had a sign up in the air that said ‘Fire girl will you marry me?'” Jockers said. “I actually met the gentleman behind the poster. He started the signs and I actually have two of them in my room. At that moment I realized what I do is the best job I could ask for during college.”
Associate Director of Bands and Director of Athletic Bands Matthew McCutchen said he also sees Jockers’ desire to be involved, as she helped post to social media sites and create the band banquet video as historian of the band.
“Majorettes, by their nature, are very much used to being the center of attention,” McCutchen said. “She’s great at that. That’s not a negative stereotype … but then she’s also very happy to turn around and do some of the grunt work behind the scenes.”
Jockers’ impact has transcended twirling, as she won the people’s choice category at this year’s Mr. and Miss USF Scholarship Pageant.
She isn’t just involved in twirling but she said she doesn’t expect people to know her life outside of twirling either.
“I don’t live the high fashion life,” Jockers said. “I don’t live in the party scene. I work four jobs.”
In addition to her performances at USF athletic games and campus events as the university’s head twirler, she also works as a promotion’s assistant for WMOR and 98.7 The Fan, and as a bartender for Courigan’s Irish Pub and Wing House.
While Jockers learned to correct her step, she still catches herself on her toes during work, when she sometimes is at two jobs in one day.
“When I’m on my feet for 12 hours, and I’m on my toes, I’ll feel it,” Jockers said. “My back will start hurting.”
But Jockers said she balances various jobs the way she juggles batons. When she takes her position on the field with a smile on her face, she displays a dedicated passion to her work ethic and those that are closest around her.
“I’ve gone through experiences good and bad, and I’ve had to learn a lot and I have to learn fast,” Jockers said. “Because of that, I feel that you can’t take life so seriously. You have one life to live, live it up, because you’re never going to get that moment back.”