When senior twirler Tiffany Jockers performs at USF sporting events, she sparks interest with fire and flashy costumes. She holds the crowd’s attention with her trick-filled routines.
Jockers moves with grace, but the self-proclaimed “klutz” has been perfecting her craft since she first fell in love with twirling as a child.
At 8 years old, she spotted twirlers at the front of the Festival of States Parade in St. Petersburg. The young girl, who had already tried gymnastics and ballet, just wanted to take on another adventure.
She begged her mom for about a year before finding a baton in her Easter basket.
“The Easter bunny brought it for me,” Jockers said. “I really haven’t put it down since.”
Jockers has had her baton with her ever since, with only a few exceptions
“I can’t tell you how many times I would trip over the baton,” Jockers’ mother Michelle said. “There are so many things that have been broken. She has only one glass door in her closet because the other one was broken. We’ve gone through fans (and) a million porcelain objects.”
Yet, Michelle has sacrificed more than furniture and household items for her daughter’s twirling career. Twice a month for seven years, Michelle drove her daughter five hours from St. Pete to Tallahassee for a three-hour twirling lesson.
“Every time we would go, we would always find somewhere new to stop,” Michelle said. “Whether we would be going up 19, and we’d stop at Crystal River and look for manatees, or if there was a crazy building with Christmas decorations, we’d stop and check it out. We always did something to make it an adventure.”
Practice didn’t stop once they got back to St. Pete.
“My mom would sit outside with me for three hours a day,” Jockers said. “She wasn’t forcing me to go outside; that’s what I wanted to do. I would do my schoolwork and say ‘OK, let’s go play baton.’ We’d go outside and go play, and we’d come back inside and watch ‘Gilmore Girls,’ and then we’d go back outside.”
Jockers refused to put down her baton even when she broke her funny bone after flipping off a trampoline. Because of that, she was in a cast twice as long.
Her cast was temporarily removed for two weeks, during which time she performed “How Does She Know” from “Enchanted” in her high school talent show where she caught her principal’s attention and was asked to be the feature twirler.
St. Petersburg High School is where current USF Color Guard Director Jamie Dyer first saw Jockers perform. It’s also where she started adding fire to her routines.
“I’ve sprained my ankle multiple times. My knees hurt once in a while,” Jockers said. “No pain, no gain.”
Despite the difficulties, Jockers remains disciplined, pushing past the bumps and bruises. She’s shown a desire to improve in every aspect of her life since her mom began to home-school her and her younger brother.
“When we were learning long division, I remember (my brother and I) would race each other,” Jockers said. “We would have fifty pieces of paper just covered in math. My brother and I learned so well in math and science because it was fun.”
Learning multiplication and division was entertaining for Jockers, but spending time at Disney remains one of her favorite things to do with her family.
Disney has always been a place for the Jockers family to get away. Jockers was 6 months old when she was first taken to “the most magical place on Earth,” back before cellphones were popular.
“There was no beeper reception there, so I loved it because we could go and (my husband) wouldn’t get called into work,” Michelle said. “When we’re there, whether we’re camping and playing board games, or whether we’re in the park, we call it the Fortress of Fours – the four of us. Most all our memories are around Disney.”
Jockers continues to make memories at Disney. She started working as a character performer at the park this year.
“I get to make a lot of magical moments and share a lot of pixie dust,” she said.
However, this isn’t Neverland, so Jockers can’t spread pixie dust forever. Eventually, she wants be a sideline reporter for ESPN and work with deaf athletes across the country.
Jockers is expected to graduate this spring with a major in communications and minor in American Sign Language, and the USF Herd of Thunder will miss having her on the field with them.
“She likes to make people smile,” Dyer said. “She’s a great asset. We’re definitely going to miss her next year.”