Setting the Baton High
November 8, 2018 by Jamie Ward

Senior Marks Barrier-Breaking Topperette Career

If you’ve seen a Chardon Hilltoppers marching band performance within the past three years, you’ve definitely noticed Domenic Mularo. His uniform featured a striped silver top and fitted black pants in a sea of skirts and tights.

If you’ve seen a Chardon Hilltoppers marching band performance within the past three years, you’ve definitely noticed Domenic Mularo.

His uniform featured a striped silver top and fitted black pants in a sea of skirts and tights.

He was the only male in a 16-member flag squad, and the first-ever male Topperette in Chardon.

With your eye already drawn to him, you may have also noticed that he’s a pretty great twirler and dancer. He’s not just there to stand out.

Mularo has been a Topperette since his sophomore year, and has been chosen to choreograph flag, pom-pom and high kick routines as co-captain for the past two.

As a freshman clarinet player, he claims he held his clarinet but sometimes didn’t play it: “I was always watching the majorettes and the Topperettes, and it was something that I just fell in love with.”

He admired the squad as a middle-schooler, both on the field at games and uploaded to YouTube.

“Oh my gosh, they’re dancing and that looks like so much fun,” he remembered thinking. “Just those old kick lines and the big squads — that’s what I loved to watch.”

Being the first boy to make the squad came with high expectations. He knew he had to be serious, which is one reason why he says he didn’t try out with his friends as a freshman.

“I just wanted to play it safe because they had never had a guy before, and it’s a big step to kind of just step out of your comfort zone and go for it.”

Plus, he had some flexibility to gain, and he worked on that before trying out for Topperettes and majorettes coach Debra Stapel.

“I didn’t want to go in and not be completely prepared for what’s there, because there have been other guys in the past that wanted to try out but they treated it like a joke, and I wasn’t taking it like a joke.”

Domenic’s parents initially had reservations about him breaking this barrier in such a public way, fearing ridicule.

But when they contacted Stapel to discuss whether he seemed serious or not, she recalled replying: “Well, I think the fact that he’s showing up for the clinics and he’s making a switch from band to this — you know your son better than I do, but if he’s come this far, I think he’s going to dive into this.”

His dad, Joe, also recalled: “At first he actually said, ‘Dad, I don’t think you’re behind this 100 percent.’ I said, ‘You know what, I will support you in anything you do, but you’ve just got to understand – they’re gonna call you names. It’s gonna be hard.’ And he said, ‘I don’t care, I want to do this. I want to be the first guy to do this.’”

However, the family has been pleasantly surprised by the overall positive reception he’s received throughout Geauga County – even if it almost always begins with a bit of surprise.

“In the stands you’re kind of listening and go, am I going to have to get into a fight?” Joe said with a laugh. “Some of the parents will be like, ‘Hey, that’s a guy!’ But then they go, ‘That’s cool.’”

Willoughby South High School, also in the Western Reserve Conference, included a male flag twirler last year, but Domenic didn’t believe he had any male peers this season.

In fact, his three years on the squad were so remarkable that Domenic has even been recognized and approached at Walmart, he said, his eyes widening as he recounted the experience.

“A lot of freshman parents in the band are just like, OK, he’s been here for a couple years, we all know it’s here,” he said. “But my first year was brand new for everybody.”

He paused, acknowledging the experience has had its challenges, too.

“I’ve had a couple – I’m gonna say ‘mixed’ reactions because the situations weren’t the best and I’m not really in place to talk about what happened. But there were a couple people that weren’t as accepting (or) happy for me as other people were.”

However, the joys – among them, all the people he’s met and befriended, receiving support in pre-show “spirit circles,” and dressing as Peter Pan among a squad of Tinkerbells for last year’s Halloween show – have far outweighed the criticisms.

His sister, Sarah, was also in band this year, a sophomore on snare drum.

“He worked really hard to just do a good job, and it was really cool seeing him put his heart and soul into it,” said his mom, Kelly. “And he didn’t listen to anybody that did say anything negative.”

On the choreography side, Domenic helped develop the flag routines, while co-captain Morgan Danison worked on poms and dance, but the two shared visions and bounced ideas off each other with Stapel.

Danison said she admires her co-captain’s individuality, maturity and especially friendship.

“He knows that not everyone may like him, but he still refuses to bend to those people and their thoughts, which is something I actually really admire.”

In his free time, Domenic competes outside of school on Stapel’s Team Elite twirling team.

His age division of 12 is also all-female except for Domenic, but nationally, Stapel said boy twirlers are quite a bit less uncommon.

“He was able to see that this year in the national championships in Jacksonville,” Stapel said, “and he was like, ‘Wow, there are more (boys who do this),’ and I said, ‘I told you there was.’”

“As long as I’ve been at Chardon, and this is the end of my 32 seasons, we’ve never had a boy audition or ask to audition until Domenic,” Stapel added. “They’re all great kids, and they delight us with many fine performances. He’s a delightful young man, very serious, very focused, very dedicated. Whatever he has set his mind out to do, with twirling or the Topperettes, he’s done it 100 percent plus. He’s very genuine, very caring about everybody, very detailed. Always early for class. He truly enjoys it.”

Domenic hopes to apply to Kent State University in the fall and audition for the Touch of Gold Twirlers. He’d love to train to become a feature twirler, and maybe occasionally help coach back in Chardon, too.

Takeaways from his time as a Topperette include “my flexibility, for sure;” his growth as a choreographer; and “just being a leader and trying to be a good role model for people.”

“It’s so hard to leave this year as a senior,” he said, feeling the myriad of emotions all seniors felt during last week’s playoff game at home. “I’m hoping that maybe since I took the first step, there will be more boys that decide to go out and do this. It’ll be a little bit, but I know it will happen eventually.”