GUSSIE NELL DAVISby
Archie P. McDonald
season in East Texas—or any part of
Texas—brings communities together, and one reason
is that the "players" no longer involves just the football team.|
also the principal season for cheerleaders, and, because of Gussie Nell Davis
of Kilgore College, for more than half a century it is the season for drill teams.
Davis was born on November 4, 1906, in Farmersville,
Texas. She attended public schools there and was graduated from the College
of Industrial Arts (now Texas Woman's University) in 1923 with a degree in physical
education, and a master's degree from the University of Southern California in
1938. Davis began teaching women's physical education classes at Greenville High
School in 1928. She founded the Flaming Flashes, the first dance-drill team in
the nation. Other schools previously featured female drum-and-bugle corps marching
groups, but Davis introduced precision dance routines.
Masters of Kilgore College, Kilgore
Texas, asked Davis to "find a way to keep people in their seats at halftime"
during football games. Davis then organized the Kilgore Rangerettes, a drill/dance
team similar to Greenville's Flaming Flashes.
Rangerettes in the 1960s|
Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
was a born leader who knew how to draw on the talents of others to succeed. For
example, Denard Hayden, who operated a dance studio and school in Nacogdoches,
became Davis' choreographer and Hazel Stewart the group's accompanist. Assistants
Peggy Coghlan, Barbara Harmon, and Deana Bolton, and sponsor L.N. Crim, were each
crucial to the Rangerettes' success. |
The Rangerettes performed for the
first time in 1940 and Davis remained their director until her retirement in 1979
and their godmother until her death in 1993. Dressed in Western style hats and
red, white, and blue costumes two inches above the knee—still a bit daring in
1940—the Rangerettes became a hit and then an institution.
to appear at Kilgore College's football games at halftime and also games of other,
larger universities, international conventions of Lions and Rotary clubs, and
especially in parades and college bowl games.
The Rangerettes have appeared
on the cover of many major magazines, including Life Magazine and even
the Paris Match. Soon other colleges and high schools established drill
teams, and participation by co-eds at those institutions became a real prize.
Davis' group received some criticism from women's rights activists for, they alleged,
she emphasized physical beauty in selecting recruits, which resulted in a lineup
of "Barbie dolls." Davis believed that the discipline and devotion required of
a Rangerette built confidence and poise in her young women that prepared them
for challenges of life beyond college.
Gussie Nell David died in Kilgore
on December 21, 1993, and was buried in Farmersville.
by Archie P. McDonald - Order Here
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