By Kelli Krull Russell

Too often, at competitions, I overhear someone complaining about a judge and the judge's decision. And I must admit, in some cases, I even wonder how the judge arrived at their final decision and placement. I have also learned how extremely important it is to keep my wonder to myself. Many times, performances appear very different when seen from behind the judge's table. It may also be a different decision when just viewed from the stands, as compared to awarding points on the score sheet for that particular performance. For parents and teachers, it is important to set a good example for the twirlers. We must respect each judge's final decision ... and look to the score sheet for comments to help improve the routines and twirler's abilities.

As judges though, we must always strive to heighten our knowledge and improve our judging abilities. When I was judging in Italy at the NBTA World Championships in 1996, I noticed the European judges writing in notebooks DURING a twirler's performance. (The judge did not look away from the twirler, but wrote notes while keeping his eyes on the baton twirler.) The judge still had a clerk who wrote the judge's comments on the score sheet. I was intrigued at the reason behind the notebook, so I asked.

If one judge's opinion varies greatly from the other judge's opinions, the judges are brought in to a meeting and they must back up and explain the reasons for their decision. When this happens, the notebooks are a necessity. Of course, this sounds very foreign to U.S.A. judges. I started thinking about it and discussing it with my clerk. It's really not a bad idea to be able to have proof and definitive written reasons behind your decisions as a judge. Although U.S. judges are rarely asked about their decisions, the notebook is a helpful tool in remembering the finer points about the twirler and the routine.

We are all supposed to judge on a non-comparative basis ... we all must know what constitutes a specific score on the score sheet. For example, what would be deserving of a score of 16 in the difficulty category? Maybe a 3 spin blind catch, various low flips, certain rolls, etc... we must all know our scoring standards and be true to them. By being true to our scoring standards, it means we do not have to remember each and every twirler. We just have to score according to what was presented to us in that performance, at that time. But sometimes, especially in very long categories, it is helpful to have a way to recognize what is happening during the performance. I was once taught to say the particular tricks in my mind as the twirler does them. This is helpful, but in addition, writing certain things down is also a huge help in remembering. When you score the contestant it is helpful to have your notes right there. You can easily remember what was executed in the routine, and then apply your scoring standards.

This technique is also wonderful for new judges. It helps to build their retention skills and can also help to build their confidence. I found this technique beneficial to my judging and I have been judging for 20 years. When training a clerk to become a judge, if the clerk has any questions on why you scored one contestant higher than another, the notes are very helpful in explaining the reasoning and intricacies of judging.


One other interesting concept I encountered while judging in Europe was that the team of judges on a category would all agree on the caption scoring range of the first contestant. Immediately after she twirled, the judges would select a caption score they all agreed upon for that contestant (i.e., 16).

At first, I totally disagreed with this entire concept. I was afraid it would tamper with each judge's own scoring standards. But as we used this system, I came to realize it was an excellent way to maintain consistency in each judge's scores. Also, it made it very easy to notice if a judge was way out of line on a particular contestant. This concept made sure each judge was starting the division with the same scoring standard. A wild variation for a particular contestant would be immediately obvious.

I tried this concept when I judged a contest here in the U.S. and it worked very well. I think it also helps the contestant see more consistent scoring between the two judges on a division.

In conclusion, as judges, it is important to maintain our scoring standards and remain consistent when scoring each contestant. Each judge also has the responsibility to stay up-to-date on all rules and to keep expanding their baton twirling knowledge. Teaching and coaching can also help to make you a better judge by being more aware of new tricks and the difficulty level of certain tricks, as well. We must always remember each contestant has worked hard and deserves our utmost attention, knowledge, and thought, so that the best decisions are made.