Gardner Edgerton High School senior Matti Diener was never going to grow up to be a football star.
So, the daughter of Trailblazers football coach Marvin Diener searched for the next best thing in an effort to connect with her football-crazy family.
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“Growing up, we’re such a big football family, I wanted to get involved somehow,” Matti said. “Twirling was my little outlet for that, and, because of twirling, now my dad does get to go to more college games after David’s career, which is a really cool thing.”
Her brother, David, played at Emporia State and William Jewell colleges, but the Dieners assumed their college football days were over when he graduated in May 2011.
Instead, Matti expects to be the star attraction at Oklahoma State University halftime shows for the next four years after signing a national letter of intent last week to become the Cowboys’ featured twirler.
“The amount of time and effort she’s put into becoming elite at that sport and skill has been pretty incredible,” Marvin said. “For her to have the opportunity now to do that on the Big 12 stage is really a cool deal. She’s very excited. I’ve not watched many Cowboys’ games, but we’re about to.”
Matti’s twirling career started in Salina, Kan., where her father guided Salina Central High School to six Kansas Class 5A football championships in 19 seasons. She signed up for classes at a local school and fell in love with the sport.
By middle school, Matti was beginning to think she might have a future as a twirler for a major NCAA Division I school.
“That’s when I really got serious,” she said. “I worked with my coaches and got some great instruction. I really pushed myself to an elite level, so I could accomplish my goal.”
Moving from Salina to Gardner around the same time, Matti began working with Douglas Daniels, who teaches twirling at Gotta Dance Creative Center in Grandview.
“We were real fortunate to find Doug Daniels,” Marvin said. “He’s been awesome in taking her to the next level. She’s competed at the national level and done very well. Coach Daniels has been very instrumental in making that happen.”
Daniels, who moved to the Kansas City area in 1983 after graduating from the University of Arkansas, said a good twirler needs stamina, finesse and excellent hand-eye coordination as well as strong dancing and gymnastics skills – qualities Matti has in abundance.
“It’s almost like a dream come true for me too,” Daniels said. “When I first saw her, I said to myself she could be a feature twirler at some elite university, because she has the qualities it takes.”
He was right, much to the Dieners’ delight.
“We spent a lot of time and energy and money on twirling, and I wanted that to pay off,” Matti said. “Knowing I’ll get to experience some amazing Saturdays with college football and have the opportunity to perform in front of so many people, I know it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Twirling already has taken Matti half a world away. She was one of 13 twirlers nationwide selected to attend the 62nd annual Festival Internacional de Primavera in Trujillo, Peru, last fall.
U.S. baton twirlers have been guests of theTrujillo Lions Club International since 1965 for the city’s festival, and they also perform at various fundraisers for orphanages and senior centers.
Three other Gardner Edgerton seniors also signed letters of intent last week, including Kyle Huppe – a three-year starter for the boys’ basketball team who averaged 16.9 points as a senior.
He is headed to St. Xavier University, an NAIA Division I school in Chicago.
“We sent out a highlight video to schools around the country, and I heard back from their coach who had me come up for a visit, and I really liked it,” Huppe said. “I fell in love with the place and the coaching staff. He told me I’d have an opportunity to play as a freshman, which really sealed it.”
Gardner Edgerton girls’ basketball teammates Shelbe VanDeberghe and Hayley Dellinger are set to become foes in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference Eastern Division.
VanDeberghe, who chose basketball over volleyball, signed with Butler Community College in El Dorado. “I liked basketball more than volleyball, so I stuck with it,” VanDeberghe said.
Dellinger signed with Fort Scott Community College. “I’ve been counting down to this day forever,” Dellinger said. “Now that it’s here, I’m so happy.”