While riding the bus home from work, public relations junior Erica Kuntz got a call she had been hoping to get for two years. As she started sobbing, the woman next to her asked if she was okay, and Kuntz replied, “I have never been better.”
Biding her time, Erica waited two years for the Longhorn Band twirling position to open up. As soon as it did last year, she immediately auditioned and nabbed the 2016 marching band twirler spot.
Her first encounter with twirling was Sandra Bullock’s “Miss Congeniality” when she was 5 years old. As soon as Erica saw Miss Rhode Island (Heather Burns) twirl fire, she knew she had to try it.
Erica’s mother, Claudia, said her daughter was passionate about the sport as soon as she saw her pick up her first baton.
“I can just remember her being in her little pigtails and she would get so excited about learning a trick,” Claudia said. “Boy, when she saw that she could be in front of a judge and she could perform, it was almost like a whole other animal. No matter what level of ability she’s had over the years, people would come up to us and say, ‘We just enjoyed watching you.’”
But last May, Erica’s career took a temporary blow. After her shoulder broke from overuse, she took a break from twirling, and her shoulder is still regaining flexibility.
After twirling with broken toes and fingers, strep throat and kidney stones, the injury didn’t faze Erica. Forgoing physical therapy, she started twirling again within a few weeks of her doctor’s visit. Until she heals, Claudia will continue to put Erica’s hair into a bun before performances, just as she’s done for the past 16 years.
Kevin Kwaku, Longhorn Band drum major and music studies senior, first met Erica at section leader camp. She was frustrated with a routine when he walked up, so he offered to watch. She stunned him with her abilities, but she said she still wanted to be better.
“Right off the bat, she had a really strong, vibrant personality,” Kwaku said. “And that was a moment for me when I realized how dedicated she is to what she does and how passionate she is.”
The pair now walk onto the field together at every game and do a special handshake before their performance. Kwaku raises his hands up high. Erica jumps up to high-five him. They do a low high-five, three claps in the middle and finish it off with a “hook ‘em.”
For the most part, Erica practices with the band but receives almost no direction from the directors or TAs. Since the band doesn’t have a designated twirling coach, Erica creates all of her own routines based on the music and marching patterns around her.
“It’s a blessing that I have all of this artistic freedom, but it’s a little bit of a curse in that I don’t have direction,” Erica said. “Twirling’s kind of a lonely sport.”
But Erica still finds company in her coach of 16 years, Sheila Rigelsky. Since Rigelsky lives in Dallas, the two FaceTime whenever Erica needs her to offer tips or assuage fears.
The now-famous double overtime Notre Dame football game at DKR Stadium was Erica’s first halftime performance with the band. Now she’s training to twirl fire with them for the first time at the OU Red River rivalry game.
“When she went out for her first game I just wanted to bawl. I was so nervous,” Claudia said. “I’m so proud of her.”