Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The East Texas Red White and Blue

For as long as I can remember, our home was always full of Rangerettes.  

Once a Rangerette herself, my mother made great efforts in always supporting and representing this Texas icon of women going so far as to establish a Rangerette scholarship fund in hopes of providing an education for those with such great talent.

During my youth, she nurtured a program called "Adopt a Rangerette" in which she would provide a home away from home for these girls who might want to escape for the weekend or just enjoy a home cooked meal. Mostly freshmen trying to carve out some time to study or just get away from the demanding sophomores, these young women would crowd our home like visiting family members on holiday.

So there it is. I'm sixteen years old, scared of girls and my house closely resembles that of a dormitory full of drill team dancers.

I was the most famous kid around and it wouldn't be too long before my friends were wanting to come by and visit. All boys of course and like me, they didn't have a whole lot of game around all those Rangerettes. We offered very little in intelligent conversation plus the fact that we all still lived with our parents, a real bonus for any college girl.

It's funny how you grow up so close to something and have very little historic appreciation for it. At that age, it's hard to appreciate anything I guess. Throw in some teenage hormones and it's a wonder how I even made it through school.

Aside from all of that, it is important to note that this is no ordinary drill team. In fact, it is and will always be the very first of it's kind representing an elite model for all drill teams to aspire to.

Unlike a lot of things grand that start out as a vision or a goal, this was not the case for the Kilgore College Rangerettes. They just sort of happened.

In 1939, Dr. B.E. Masters was having a couple of issues with Kilgore College. Enrollment for women was down and as funny as it sounds in today's world, they wanted some entertainment during football game half-times. Apparently the crowds were leaving in order to freshen up their beverages, Gregg county style.

So Masters found a young Miss Gussie Nell Davis who had started the very first high-school drill team in Greenville, Texas. Word had spread far and wide about these dynamic half time dancers known as the "Flaming Flashes" as well as the bold and no-nonsense approach that Miss Davis executed as a leader and a lady.

Hailing from Farmersville, Texas, Gussie Nell Davis was not your typical dance instructor. She was a classically trained pianist who held a Masters in Science from the University of Southern California. Given the disciplines from her classical background and the fact that it was almost impossible for a woman to get a lot of traction during the 30's, she led those young women to a level of hard nosed perfection like a drill sergeant refines a marine. Her standards were nothing less than perfection and because of this, the Rangerettes have received more honors and awards than you could count including Miss Davis being inducted into the Texas Women's Hall of Fame in 1965.

For seventy years, this drill team has traveled all over the world and continues to pave the road of perfection that Gussie Nell forged so long ago. A road that very few women have ever taken let alone created from scratch.

It is a road that hopefully will always be paved with perfect high-kicks as well as ingrained with the standards held by such an interesting and driven woman. A woman that paved a red, white and blue road through the heart of East Texas.

Here's to the real Red, White and Blue. My hat's off ladies.

The above image is from the cover book design of "Kilgore Rangerettes" by O. Rufus Lovett. 
The book is available for sale through the University of Texas Press.


  1. I feel sure you made it through school because I was the "task master". Haha!

  2. This is a very wonderful story!! I am taking a photography class from O. Rufus Lovett this semester! Both the story and Photos are amazing!!

  3. excellent commentary, edwin. I always wanted to be a rangerette...couldn't dance my way out of a paper bag. Nice to hear about your KR experiences.