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.
It is 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.
President B.E. 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.
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.
They continued 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
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.
8-25, 2008 column
A syndicated column in over 70 East
(The East Texas Historical Association provides this column as a public
service. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author
of more than 20 books on Texas.)
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