By BERNIE BELLAN Yonatan Orlov is a past nominee for Jewish Athlete of the Year (2018). We’ve been writing about Yonatan since 2014, which is when I first saw him perform at a talent show sponsored by Jewish Child & Family Service, when Yonatan was 15 years old. I, along with everyone else who was in the audience at the Art Gallery Auditorium that day, was absolutely blown away by what Yonatan was able to do with a baton.
Anyone who’s ever seen Yonatan twirl a baton would realize that he combines an amazing level of athleticism with creativity in a sport that one does not usually associate with boys.
In the 2014 article where I first wrote about Yonatan, I quoted his mother Olga, who described how Yonatan came to fall in love with baton twirling:
“In grade 6 (when Yonatan was 11) Dr.W. Penner school had a talent show and two girls where practicing baton. Yonatan liked how it looked so he tried it out. During school recesses Yonatan would take the baton from his friends and practice. We didn’t know about his interest at all. At the end of grade 6 Yonatan had a Farewell evening. During this evening kids were asked to tell something special about there friends. They said about Yonatan, that he is borrowing baton every recess and play with it. My husband and I knew nothing about baton; we even did not know the word “baton”. As a Jewish mom I was wondering, why my son has to borrow something every recess. So, I asked Yonatan, why he is borrowing and offered him to buy the baton. He explained to me what it is and I started to look for the baton. As I learned later it wasn’t an easy task… I was thinking baton is a toy, and I went to the Toys “R” Us. Nothing was there… We “googled” it but nothing was sold in Canada. Then we decided to make baton ourselves. We bought two small balls at Dollorama, connected it to the rod with glue and gave Yonatan to play with it. The “invention” didn’t work… I started to look for the Baton clubs in order to buy used baton from them. So I called Greendell community center and the coach Joyce Ormshaw was very surprised by my story and invited Yonatan to the club. The same summer Winnipeg hold a Canadian national championship and Yonatan was amazed how exiting the baton sport is.”
Yonatan went on from that early foray into the sport to become a Canadian champion, and to compete in a number of international competitions. More recently, Yonatan, who is now in his final years of science studies at the University of Manitoba, has moved into coaching baton twirling, as well as remaining a participant in competitions himself.
Recently Yonatan was honoured by Sport Manitoba for his coaching, when he received the Sport Manitoba Vince Leah Memorial award for Fundamentals Coach of the Year.
In a letter I received from Tammy DeJong, Manitoba Baton Twirling Sportive Association Chairperson, Tammy expounded at great length on what a fabulous coach Yonatan is.
She wrote, in part: “Yonatan is genuinely gifted in coaching young people. He has a certain way about him that makes his students love learning. He is adaptable and shifts his lesson plans depending on how his class is going. He makes learning baton fun and offers his students a safe and inclusive environment. He makes each participant feel successful and special.
“Within the Winnipeg Russian community, Yonatan is a popular coach. Baton is not a well-known sport for newcomers, but Yonatan has made it his mission to share his passion with the community so others may have the benefits he does. He attends frequent outreach events and teaches the children. His goal is to increase participation in baton twirling in Manitoba.
“Yonatan coaches classes in Russia and Germany via Zoom because he is also gifted at teaching skills and choreographing routines. His athletes compete locally, Nationally and Internationally. It is pretty remarkable that he came to Canada from Israel as a young boy, discovered baton twirling at school, trained to become an elite Canadian Champion and World level athlete, and now is giving back through his coaching.
“He is also an athlete and will compete at the World Championships in August in Turin, Italy. He is coached by Winnipeg resident, Kristin Macaraeg of Legacy Baton Club. She too is active in the Jewish community.”