When the Hawkeye Marching Band takes the field for the first football game in Kinnick Stadium Sept. 3, it will be accompanied by the Teenage Miss Majorette of America.
In July, the University of Iowa's "Golden Girl" Ella McDaniel won the title.
For McDaniel, it was a decade-long dream finally being fulfilled.
"This (title) is the main one and the one I've wanted to win since I was 7 years old," McDaniel said. "I've always looked up to Miss Majorette of America. I used to ask for her autograph at competitions."
McDaniel assumed she would have to continue to compete for years in order to win the Miss Majorette of America title and was just hoping to finish in the top three this year.
As they called out who ranked third and second, it began to sink in that McDaniel had won the national championship she practiced 15 years to achieve.
"At that point, I was like, it has to be me. It was just crazy and I literally started crying because I did not expect it at all," McDaniel said.
McDaniel is used to the competition stage. The New Hampshire native has been twirling since she was 5, and, at age 11, began traveling the world for baton competitions. She won the preteen Miss Majorette of America title when she was 12 and the junior division at 15.
The whirlwind lifestyle of Miss Majorette of America began immediately for McDaniel, attending award shows and competitions the day after winning. Later in the week, McDaniel flew to the Netherlands, where she competed in the IBTF World Baton Twirling & Majorette Championships. There, she received one silver and three bronze medals.
McDaniel is trying to take it in stride, and sees it as an opportunity for an exciting year.
"I'm able to go to all these competitions like Miss Majorette of Iowa and every other state that works for my schedule and host the competitions, and I just have a year of helping everyone else compete," McDaniel said.
Meanwhile, McDaniel will come back to the University of Iowa campus and balance life as a Golden Girl and Miss Majorette of America. She is a sophomore majoring in health and human physiology.
"It actually adds a lot of excitement, I think, because now I get to show the competitive side of twirling a little bit more with people. Because now I have the title, which is exciting because everyone always sees what I do but they don't know it's like a whole other world performing at football games," McDaniel said.
Though McDaniel loves competing, performing for the Hawkeyes is a different type of thrill. The Golden Girl is a coveted title in the university marching band, which features a solo baton twirler as it heads out onto the field before football games and at halftime. The position comes with a full, four-year scholarship.
"I have so much more fun when I'm twirling on the field. You're just doing what you love and it's fun to get the crowd's reaction right there," McDaniel said. "Whereas competition twirling, it's just a little bit more stressful. But it's what I'm used to."
McDaniel is returning to the Hawkeyes as the singular Golden Girl this season after she shared the role with Kylene Spanbauer in 2021. McDaniel said Iowa City has always felt like home, even when she toured it in high school.
"I came for a football game, I met the band, and I just loved everything about it," McDaniel said. "Not even just the band and the football games but also the campus and what the classes had to offer."
McDaniel auditioned and was offered the Golden Girl role. She decided not to audition at any other universities.
"When I had to make the decision, Iowa was the best fit for twirling wise, scholarship wise and academic wise, so it was kind of perfect," McDaniel said. "It had everything I needed."
She said the Iowa marching band has become like her family.
"She's just a wonderful leader and a wonderful human to be around, and that's the reason we chose her as Golden Girl, but obviously she is really deserving of this (Miss Majorette title)," said Eric Bush, director of the Hawkeye Marching Band. "We're super proud of her. ... She's a great twirler regardless of the title, but being Miss Majorette of America is just another feather in her cap for all the work that she's put in."
McDaniel has acted as a "guest Iowan," Bush said. She is always ready to be a band member first and help out the team, whether it's carrying ladders, helping with equipment or cleaning off the drum major's tower.
"She's a really talented person but to have a conversation with her, you wouldn't know that she's a world-class twirler. She's really down to earth. She's really open-minded," Bush said. "She's sort of a roll your sleeves up type of person."
This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: University of Iowa Golden Girl is Miss Majorette of America