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Tops in Twirling

From fancy struts to flaming batons, Jeanne’s Gems took the Florida twirling world by storm

Jeanne Janowski with her entire Jeanne’s Gems corps, circa 1969

Jeanne Janowski with her entire Jeanne’s Gems corps, circa 1969

“It’s still there!” cries Kim Coleman-Morgan, standing on tiptoe and beaming through a chain link fence toward a large cement pad that holds strong memories for her, even though it is now sprouting a few weeds. “That’s where we used to practice,” she announces. We are standing outside the Technical Center for Career & Adult Education building in downtown Vero Beach. “This used to be the youth center.” 

Coleman-Morgan was a member of the Twirling corps known as Jeanne’s Gems in the mid- and late-1960s that dominated the Florida twirling circuits so thoroughly that other teams dreaded their arrival at competitions. Wearing custom outfits sparkling with embellishments hand-sewn by mothers and grandmothers, Jeanne’s Gems crisscrossed the state, scoring state championships in successive years and so many individual trophies that they spilled out of closets, garages and rumpus rooms in the girls’ homes. 

“My best friend, Patty Mixon, twirled,” Coleman-Morgan recalls. “I lived around the corner from her. We used to hang out at the youth center. While I was waiting for my mom to pick me up, I watched the twirlers on this hard court outside, right here.” She was a determined 7-year-old at the time. “I told anyone who would listen that I wanted to twirl like the big kids. From then on out, that’s all I wanted to do.” She began when her mother took her to Jeanne Janowski’s house in the neighborhood formerly known as Beechwood Estates to get a feel for the difficulty of the sport. The group drilled with Jeanne, getting ready for a big performance at the Citrus Bowl. “The music was the theme song from the TV show ‘Family Affair.’ I remember sitting on the curb and watching intently.” Coleman-Morgan memorized the whole routine in a few minutes and let Jeanne know. After just one lesson with Jeanne, she was officially enlisted in Jeanne’s Gems and went to the Citrus Bowl days later.