(photo of “The K Girl” on the side of the Rangerette Gym, taken by me)
Anyone who’s read this blog since the beginning knows that me, a Midwestern transplant, and Texas “cowboy culture” don’t get along very well. I cringe at the fascination with bull roping, tobacco spitting and Toby Keith music, and to me, nothing symbolizes it better than the cowboy hat. Those hats might as well have the words REDNECK and HICK painted right on the brim. So you can imagine what I thought when I first saw the 70-plus members of the Kilgore College Rangerettes marching toward me one year at the Cotton Bowl parade, each in a white, wide-brimmed western hat. But I’ve decided there’s a very big difference in meaning between a cowboy hat and a cowgirl hat. Especially when they’re worn by a drill team.
On Wednesday, I and a handful of other moms accompanied Allison’s high school drill team on a 2 ½-hour bus ride to The Birthplace of Drill– Kilgore College in the tiny town of Kilgore, Texas. It’s the home of the Rangerettes, America’s first and most famous drill team. For those not familiar with them, they dress western-style in red, white and blue, including white boots and the afore-mentioned white hat, and are known for their jump splits and so-high-they-can-kiss-their-knees kicks. They’ve been in the Macy’s parades, on TV, at the White House, on magazine covers, etc., etc. since the 40’s (they’re currently celebrating their 70th anniversary) and countless high school drill teams, especially in Texas, copy their style. We were there to tour the Rangerette Museum, the Rangerette Gym, the Rangerette Residence Hall, and watch their annual show, called Revels. For many of our girls, it was the first time they’d been in a college dorm, let alone on a college campus, and they were very excited. “Ooooh!” they gushed as they walked through the pretty and comfortable dorm (who thought those two words could ever be associated with such a structure…) “Look at their cool patio! They have their own BBQ grill!” Calm down, I thought. It’s just a two-year college, in a po-dunk town. And cutthroat competitive. An elderly man in the gift shop told me many of these girls hire personal trainers and nutritionists, just so they can make the team. That didn’t surprise me. Even though I was once on a drill team in 9th grade, it was nothing as “big” as what I’ve seen at high schools down here, and I’ve always been a bit skeptical, especially of anyone who pursues it past high school. When Allison’s drill team director, a former Rangerette captain, got all choked up and teary-eyed at the new parent meeting a couple months ago when talking about what drill team has meant to her life, I thought, “Is she serious?”
But after viewing the museum movie, looking at the exhibits, watching the show, reading the program, and spending time on the bus, I have newfound respect for drill teams and the people that work with them. Because in addition to providing teenage girls with a great workout and dance skills that can last a lifetime, sometimes translating into careers like teacher, coach, dance studio owner, and even Broadway dancer, the teams that mimic the Rangerettes’ style (like my daughter’s) also often mimic their code of respect and discipline. How cool was it to hear our busload of teenage girls say not just “yes” whenever they answered their director, but “Yes, Ma’aam!” Among other similarities, our girls have to keep their grades up in order to perform at games and shows, and they’re required to be on time for all events (they earn demerits if they’re even a minute late) so they’re encouraged to be 10-15 minutes early everywhere they go.
I doubt I’ll ever hear Allison say “Yes, Ma’aam!” to me, but if being on a drill team makes her a more respectful, more punctual person, I, too, will get teary-eyed someday when talking about it. Already I’ve seen the upcoming spring show motivate her to bring up her grades. Makes me want to kick up my heels…
um, on second thought, maybe I better not do that, but I promise I won’t make fun of those cowgirl hats ever again.