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Let your Swiss flag fly
Seventh-grader Karson Wenger of New Glarus shows his classmates his routine while instructor Damion Babler follows behind him during a class on flag throwing at the New Glarus Middle School April 16. Wenger has been flag throwing for three years. (Times photos: Marissa Weiher)
NEW GLARUS - Swiss flags soared through the air while four students practiced the old tradition of flag throwing at the New Glarus Middle School Monday night.

"It's a tradition I'd like to keep going," said Damion Babler, who leads the class. "It's a lot of fun. I think the kids really enjoy it."

Babler, a member of the New Glarus Mannerchor and Jodlerklub and a resident of Albany, traveled to Switzerland for a singing and yodeling competition in 2008. During his downtime, he watched a flag-throwing competition and was fascinated.

He purchased a flag, got some pointers from some of the other members of the Jodlerklub who already knew how to flag throw and even purchased an instructional DVD. To keep the tradition alive, Babler decided he wanted to teach the younger generations about flag throwing.

Babler said the art was brought to Green County by Robbie Schneider, a Swiss immigrant.

The eight-week class is sponsored by the Swiss Center of North America in New Glarus and is funded through a grant provided by the Green County Community Foundation. With the grant, they were able to purchase 10 flags from Switzerland, which are about $300 each.

Karson Wenger, a seventh-grader at New Glarus Middle School, has been taking the class for the last three years. Wenger even got to demonstrate his new skill at the 2016 Cheese Days and warned his classmates for this year's Cheese Days about the length and having to walk behind the cows.

Wenger said he doesn't have a particular reason for liking flag throwing - he just does. His favorite part is getting to learn and master new moves.

Babler said there are 60 sanctioned flag-throwing moves but he focuses on teaching students the basics. He spent the beginning of Monday's lesson stressing the importance of flag etiquette, with the help of JoAnn Cruse of New Glarus, who also flag throws. Etiquette includes not dropping the flag on the ground, stepping on it or resting the flag on the ground.

"The guys that are good at it make it look easy," Babler said, noting the difficulty of flag throwing.

Other tips included in the lesson were to keep the pace slow, especially since flag throwing is often accompanied by alphorn music. Babler said one of the most important things is to just keep the flag moving and off the ground. It's also important to factor in the wind because there are some tricks that can't be performed if conditions are too windy.

The students will have the opportunity to perform at different events throughout the year, such as the Wilhelm Tell Festival, Volksfest, Harvest Fest and the 2018 Cheese Days.