In 1955, 15-year-old sophomore Sherry Daley, now Sherry Daley Jung, founded the Daley Debutantes Baton and Drum Corps. In the 60 years since, almost 1,000 Milwaukee young people have participated in the group’s baton twirling corps, drum line and color guard.
Today the group consists of about 80 members from 22 communities in five Southeastern Wisconsin counties, and performs in 18 local parades and community events each year.
“When I founded the corps at age 15, I never dreamed that I’d still love it so many years later,” said Jung, a parishioner and parish ambassador at Christ King Parish in Wauwatosa.
Jung started baton twirling at a young age, and was featured on local television variety shows. She credits her Catholic education at Immaculate Conception Grade School on the south side of Milwaukee and St. John’s Cathedral High School in Milwaukee with giving her the confidence to start the Daley Debutantes.
“The nuns at Cathedral High School were outstanding,” Jung said. “They really encouraged you to be independent and strong leaders.”
Band director Gerald Schneider at St. John’s Cathedral High School was Jung’s biggest supporter, encouraging her to share her talents with younger students. The early participants in the Daley Debutantes were third- and fourth-graders from St. John’s Cathedral Grade School.
After attending Marquette University, Jung became a teacher at Gesu Elementary School on the Marquette campus. There she met Jesuit Fr. George Guenther who became the informal chaplain of the Daley Debutantes.
Fr. Guenther began the tradition of distributing cards to each participant before a major competition. The cards read, “Do Your Best and Lead the Rest.”
In more recent years, the group has practiced at many other Catholic schools, most recently St. Aloysius in West Allis, St. Florian in West Milwaukee, and St. Charles Borromeo in Milwaukee.
Jung’s sisters Marcy Blaufuss and Patti Wertschnig, a member of St. Paul Parish, Genesee Depot, were involved from early in the group’s history, and assist Jung as directors. Blaufuss, four years younger than Jung, was the first Corps Captain.
All three sisters are members of the Baton Twirling Hall of Fame, and Jung has been awarded the title of Major by the National Baton Twirling Association for significant contributions to twirling.
Blaufuss, a parishioner and usher at Immaculate Conception Parish, Milwaukee, emphasized the importance of instilling values in the students who participate in the Daley Debutantes.
“We have tried to teach them many important life lessons, such as setting high goals for themselves, working hard to achieve them, and working together as a member of a team,” said Blaufuss. “We offer them performance experiences to help build their confidence and self-esteem. They have so much fun together that they may not realize how much they are working and learning.”
“They’ve certainly learned a lot of life skills, that you don’t just get something without practice or working,” said Jung. “Hopefully we’ve taught them to respect others and listen to other people’s points of view too.”
“The important thing to us is that they have fun together and make lasting friendships. Each one of them is so important to us,” said Wertschnig. “We are like one big family. We have so many special memories from local parades to national competitions and performances.”
The group’s many honors include countless “Best On Parade” or “Top Specialty Unit” awards in local parades, as well as Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the San Diego Big Bay Balloon Parade.
The corps represented America in Dublin, Ireland for its St. Patrick’s Day Parade twice. Members have performed at halftime shows for the Sugar Bowl, Gator Bowl, Hall of Fame Bowl, Kick-Off Classic, and Pacific Life Holiday Bowl.
The Daley Debutantes will attempt to win their 43rd National Championship at America’s Youth on Parade this month at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. They have taken home the Wisconsin state championship 59 times.
“When they take that floor at the University of Notre Dame that is always just so impressive for all of them – and for us too! I still get the chills as they get ready to take the stage,” said Jung.
Eva Glisczinski, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Milwaukee, is a 14-year member of the Daley Debutantes and was named Corps Captain in 2013. She said her years of participation have strengthened her in character and faith.
“We’re not an exclusively Catholic group, but I think that we do live out a lot of Catholic values,” she said. “Before every competition we say a prayer in which we thank God for the friendship that we share within the corps, and we ask that he remind us to take the pain of losing and the joy of winning with a smile. Our directors also remind us that God has given us these talents and to thank him for them, we should work our hardest to improve them and to reach our full potential.”
Glisczinski pointed to directors Jung, Blaufuss and Wertschnig as a source of support and inspiration.
“The directors have taught me so much about determination and hard work. I am appreciative of all their support and the way that they put others first,” she said. “It is truly a great experience to be a part of this corps, and I feel that God has blessed me by giving me relationships with these wonderful people. We build each other up.”