2017-01-20 / Front Page

Twirlers’ Miss Sue is simply ‘everywhere’

Great Person 2016
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer


The choice of Kennebunk Post readers for the Great Person of 2016 award, longtime Kennebunk Twirlers coach Susan Plass, poses with some of her 30-plus baton masters during a Jan. 12 practice at Sea Road School in Kennebunk. Pictured, back row from left, are Courtenay Kinney, Reyna O’Brien, Alexis Vertano, Plass, Danielle Hersom, and Alexas Adams. Front, Alaina Heseltine, Stephanie Macisso and Brianna Adams. (Duke Harrington photo) The choice of Kennebunk Post readers for the Great Person of 2016 award, longtime Kennebunk Twirlers coach Susan Plass, poses with some of her 30-plus baton masters during a Jan. 12 practice at Sea Road School in Kennebunk. Pictured, back row from left, are Courtenay Kinney, Reyna O’Brien, Alexis Vertano, Plass, Danielle Hersom, and Alexas Adams. Front, Alaina Heseltine, Stephanie Macisso and Brianna Adams. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — Sue Plass shares a lot with the 30- plus girls she leads as coach of the Kennebunk Twirlers, from her deep knowledge of the sport to her love for the towns of the Kennebunks, but as of Monday, Jan. 16, there was one thing she was keeping from them — that readers of the Kennebunk Post had voted her the Great Person of 2016.

“I’ve been trying to keep it under the radar,” she said.


Kennebunk Twirlers coach Susan Plass, the choice of Kennebunk Post readers for the Great Person of 2016 award, shows off her own mastery of the baton in this photo taken in front of Kennebunk High School during the 1985 homecoming parade. (Courtesy photo) Kennebunk Twirlers coach Susan Plass, the choice of Kennebunk Post readers for the Great Person of 2016 award, shows off her own mastery of the baton in this photo taken in front of Kennebunk High School during the 1985 homecoming parade. (Courtesy photo) Plass, who has led the twirlers for a quarter-century, making them a ubiquitous presence at local parades and festivals — not to mention a driving force in area fundraising for charitable causes — was selected from a group of 19 nominees for the annual honor.

Despite being a fixture at public events, the recognition that comes with being named a “Great Person,” is, by itself, mildly off-putting to Plass, normally a low-key and private person.

But 2016 was a year when Plass was reluctantly thrust into the spotlight in a battle with RSU 21 officials for gym time, when renovation at Kennebunk High School left the twirlers at the bottom of the scheduling pecking order and bereft of practice space. Since then, Plass has worked a space-sharing deal with cheerleaders and other teams that has restored use twirlers lost during the fall. However, the status of the independent nonprofit organization, founded around 1939, at a sanctioned RSU sport remains up in the air.

Plass, who prefers a place behind the scenes, says she learned that trait from her mother, the late Nancy Falcone.

“She did a lot for people in the community that nobody really knew about and I just learned from her good intentions and good actions,” Plass said. “So, I had sort of hoped to keep this [Great Person award] kind of under the radar. I mean, there’s so many other great people in our community who are wonderful and have great attributes who you never hear about. So, I don’t want to take away from any of them.”

But twirler moms, twirler dads and other members of the community were not so shy about singing Plass’ praises.

“With each passing season, the breadth of Miss Sue’s compassion for her twirl girls and the communities of Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel continues to astound me,” wrote Ben O’Brien, who nominated Plass for the award. “For the past 24 years, she has dedicated her life to being a positive influence on hundreds of young people. She volunteers what amounts to a full-time job’s worth of hours each week helping children recognize their value, realize their potential, set and achieve their goals, cultivate lifelong friendships and grow into well-rounded citizens who understand the importance of a strong community.

“Miss Sue, as the girls lovingly call her, has helped nurture and develop dozens of state and regional baton champions, provided opportunities for thousands of hours of community service for her high school students, organized and participated in countless community celebrations, and facilitated many thousands of dollars in scholarships for outgoing Kennebunk High School seniors,” O’Brien wrote. “I could not ask for a better example of what it means to be a wonderful woman and amazing human being. I feel so blessed to have found such an amazing role model for my daughter. Sue Plass is what it means to be selfless. Sue personifies the community spirit. Sue is who we all hope our children grow up to be like.”

“I’m so happy that she won,” said Lori Heseltine, who twirled alongside Plass as a student at Kennebunkport Consolidated School in the mid-1970s, and now brings her daughter to practices and competitions.

“For as long as I can remember, Sue as been a force in this town,” Heseltine said. “She’s everywhere, not just at parades, but leading the girls in putting on shows and benefits for sick children and families in need, or entertaining seniors at area nursing homes, and things like that.

“As a mom, I am so thankful that my daughter has had the benefit of Sue Plass’ mentorship. It has boosted her confidence and helped give her a sense of community. Because of Sue, she’s not afraid to step up and help out wherever she’s sees a need,” Heseltine added.

“There is not a single person in our community who I think deserves this recognition more than Sue Plass,” said Mishanagqus Vetreno. “When my granddaughter came into the twirler organization, she was in a very isolated situation, and quickly became part of a group, regardless of her ability to twirl, or her ability to meet the financial end of being on the team. Sue took her from being a very quiet, introverted little girl to being a very well-adjusted fourth grader who now attends state competitions and finishes in the top 2 or 3.

“These girls have each other’s back, and that’s because of what Sue teaches them,” Vetreno said. “If someone gets sick, Sue is the first one to say, ‘How can we help, so they do not have to struggle any more than they are already?’ That’s just the kind of person she is. She always steps up to the plate.”

One thing on which all Twirler parents seem to agree is that Sue Plass instills in their daughters a sense of family. For Plass, who has no children of her own, family is why she’s remained in Kennebunk at all.

Plass began fiddling with an older cousin’s baton at age 3, and was a twirler herself as soon as she could join the team at age 9.

Back then, twirling went along with marching band, and Plass had to wait until grade 4. By 12 she was coaching other girls and even formed her own twirling team. After graduating from Kennebunk High School and college, Plass expected to leave Maine behind.

“I didn’t even think I would even be in the state after I graduated from college. That was not in my plan,” she recalled, during a Jan. 16 interview. “But then my mother and my brother died within 15 months of each other, and I kind of reevaluated my life, as I think anyone would do when the experience that big a life change at 27.”

Plass, who had been teaching elementary school for about five years at that point, soon retired to part-time work as a substitute, in order to concentrate on the twirlers, which she had returned to coaching after college.

“I knew I wanted to be committed more to my community and be sure I was here around my father and other brother, and other family members and friends, instead of heading out of state, as I’d always assumed I would eventually do,” she said. “I decided to focus on what was important, and that was the community I had right here, where I grew up.”

Plass credits her husband Dave, a computer programmer, with providing the resources needed for her to work parttime, and eventually to retire to focus on the twirlers exclusively.

“I’m very lucky to have that kind of support from my husband,” she said.

Although that amounts to a full-time job, Plass takes no pay for the work, even refusing since 2000 the high school stipend once offered to the coaching position. The membership dues and other fees twirler members pay goes exclusively to materials and competition fees needed to support the team, she says.

As to why she puts in that many hours for no pay, Plass says it all goes back to what twirling did for her as a youngster.

“It was important and gave me direction,” she said. “It kept me on the straight and narrow and, because of it, I didn’t get into any trouble. And, because of that, it made me want to give back.”

Among the ways Plass has given back was to form a scholarship in her mother’s name, the year after she died.

Since 1997, that scholarship, supported by twirler fundraising events, has given more than $25,000 to graduating Kennebunk High School seniors.

Meanwhile, the twirlers keep spinning along, more of a competitive team sport these days than the traditional majorette marching group than most parade-watchers may realize.

It’s a sport that helps brain development, because twirlers use both hands, and thus both sides of their brain Plass said. But more than developing fine motor skills, the team is about fostering that love of community Plass says she learned from her mother.

Every single member of the twirler team, she says, is like the daughter she never had, and every twirler parent part of the family she cherishes.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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