Mike Nakauchi felt left out when his little sisters began taking dance classes. So his mother enrolled him in the only other class available at the same time--baton twirling.
Now Nakauchi, 22, is the male baton-twirling champion of the world.
"It was his idea, not mine," said Linda Nakauchi, Mike's mother. "I didn't even know what (twirlers) were. He saw it as a program and picked it. We just wanted him to be busy."
For the last 14 years Mike Nakauchi has been very busy.
He has traveled around the country and the world performing. He has performed at an MTV video event, a Los Angeles Lakers party and Sea World, and was once part of an opening act for a Beach Boys concert.
This year Nakauchi won first place for the ninth time at the national baton competition at Notre Dame University, and in April he represented the United States at the international competition in France. There he won first place in the solo one-baton category, second in the two-baton category and second in the dance-twirl category.
How does a guy become so involved in a sport usually associated with the other sex?
"I really started to enjoy it when I first started," said the Westminster native, who studies math at Cal State Dominguez Hills. "When I was younger, I got a lot of attention. I was in my elementary school talent show, and I got a lot of praise, so I stayed in it."
"In high school I had mixed reactions," he said. "Now people are interested and excited when they hear about it."
Soon after Nakauchi started baton lessons, his two sisters, now 17 and 19, followed in his footsteps. All three teach for the Fountain Valley Baton Team, and Nakauchi also gives private lessons and has traveled to different states to teach at baton camps.
Nakauchi, who hopes to become a math teacher, is the only male member of the California Wave, an advanced-level twirling team. In individual competition, however, men and women are segregated, which Nakauchi would like to see changed.
"It's a little unfair, because there are not as many guys, and it's hard to get the competitive edge, especially on a local level," said Nakauchi, who admires the technique of Rams twirler Donald Garcia. On the national level, only about 50 of 3,000 baton competitors are men. All competitors are scored on technique, difficulty of tricks, showmanship and speed.
Nakauchi and his fellow twirlers would like to see baton competition at the Olympics one day, but Nakauchi said it may not be possible to gain Olympic recognition of the sport because the three national twirling organizations--Drum Majorettes of America, the National Baton Twirlers Assn. and the United States Twirling Assn.--all have different scoring procedures.
And as much as he enjoys his sport, Nakauchi said, he has decided to retire from baton competition.
"I'm an old man to still be doing this--most twirlers retire at 15 or 17," he said. "And to keep up a competitive level, you have to have a very demanding practice schedule if you take it seriously."
Nakauchi's training included about five hours a week of practice, plus strengthening his upper body, arms and wrists with pullups, chin-ups, pushups and small weights.
Nakauchi, who charges $12 an hour for private lessons, admits that twirling will probably never make him a wealthy man. "There isn't a lot of money to be made in baton," Nakauchi said. "I just do it for the love of the sport."