They may look sweet and petite, but they can really throw their economic weight around.
“This is the second biggest thing that goes on in the city here, other than the home football games of course,” said Clint Milewski, with Comfort Suites hotel in Roseland.
Perhaps you have seen the welcome signs posted by local businesses, or the brightly colored writing on mini-van windows announcing that twirlers are on board.
A.Y.O.P. is back in town.
That stands for America's Youth on Parade, and for local businesses it stands for big bucks.
A.Y.O.P. is an annual week-long event put on by the National Association of Baton Twirlers.
It has been held at the University of Notre Dame for 38 years, although there are some concerns about the future of the event.
A total of 4,500 contestants have come from near and far for one reason, to twirl.
The impact they have on the local economy might be enough to make your head spin.
“We're sold out. Usually they book ahead, 11 or ten months in advance and it fills up pretty quick,” said Milewski.
A.Y.O.P. creates a demand for hotel rooms that is second only to Notre Dame Football home games.
That, despite the fact that the twirlers probably do not use as many rooms as they should.
“We stayed seven girls in a room,” Kim Clarke said of her first visit to the event. “We slept four in a bed, sideways for a week, because we really wanted to come.” Clarke was with a baton troupe that drove 32 hours from Nova Scotia, Canada.
And many of the contestants also bring an entourage.
“I have my mom, my grandmother and grandfather come every year, it’s about the 15th year I’ve been here,” said Kayla Schweitzer of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
On Thursday afternoon, Schweitzer was eating at Perkins restaurant in Roseland, where two of the nine occupied tables in the north dining room were occupied by A.Y.O.P. participants.
The group has made its economic presence felt in many ways.
“It’s easy to find a Wal-Mart, we know where Wal-Mart is,” said Brian Breighner of Pennsylvania. “I had to put tires on the front of my car when I got here so I purchased two new tires here.”
Last year’s A.Y.O.P. event had an economic impact of $1.9 million in direct spending, according to Carolyne Wallace with the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
That is why so much time has been spent trying to come up with a plan to keep the event here.
A.Y.O.P. first came to Notre Dame when the Joyce Center was brand new, some 38 years ago.
The annual tradition is on a collision course with a 2009 remodeling project at the Joyce.
“It’s a big deal,” said Wallace, “and if you multiply that by 38 years, it’s been a big deal for a long time."
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