This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for September 24, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
For “Decades Dress-up Day” recently, my school-teacher daughter wore her East Bernard High School Flag Corps outfit from the early 1990’s – and carried a flag to school. Her students got quite a kick out of seeing her dressed like this, and she was photographed with current members of the EBHS Flag Corps. Both of my daughters were members of the high school flag corps, and my wife and I enjoyed watching many halftime performances at Friday night football games.
Flag Corps performers, who were also called “Flag Twirlers” and “Color Guards,” performed choreographed dances and routines at half time to the music played by the high school band. Some high schools also used faux rifles or sabers for these routines. Such mid-game performances added to the fun of Friday night football.
My decade was the 1950’s, and our marching band at Giddings High School had no flag twirlers, but we did have about six baton twirlers who performed at half time. Some marching bands in the 1950’s had what could be described as “baton twirling teams.” So, over the decades, we went from “baton” twirlers to “flag” twirlers.
Of course, history is never as simple as that. Before Flag Corps teams, we had Precision Dance Teams, also known as, Precision Drill Teams. Precision Drill teams were seen as early as the 1930’s, especially at colleges; and the Kilgore Rangerettes, started in 1939 by Gussie Nell Davis, gave their first performance in 1940, subsequently going on to perform at 70 Cotton Bowl halftimes in a row. They were the first college Drill Team in the world!
Other colleges followed Kilgore’s lead, with the Apache Belles at Tyler Junior College, the Wrangler Belles at Cisco Junior College, the Cardettes at Trinity Valley Community College, Athens, the Highlanders at McLennan Community College, Waco, the Blinn College Dance Team, Brenham, the Showstoppers at Navarro College, Corsicana, and the Wharton County Junior College Starlettes in Wharton. I cannot help but believe these high kickers were influenced by the Radio City Rockettes from the Radio City Music Hall in Rockefeller Center.
These world famous Rockettes made their debut with a spectacular Christmas performance in 1933. The Rockettes’ Christmas Performance became an annual event and a New York tradition. These high-kicking ladies did, and still do, up to 300 of their famous kicks for each performance, and often did four or five performance per day. Unbelievable! COVID19 has caused them to cancel their 2020 Christmas Performance.
The Wharton County Junior College Starlettes were created by Frances Alberta Nelson, not too many years after the college was founded. The Starlettes were in their heyday in the 1950’s, and were still going strong when I joined the WCJC faculty in 1966. The Starlettes were not as famous as the Rockettes or even the Rangerettes, but they were really good, and a lot of folks went to the WCJC football games just to see them perform at halftime.
While flag-twirling, precision dancing young ladies make up the Flag Corps at East Bernard High School, the high kickers at Wharton High School are the Tiger Stars Drill Team, directed by Sheila Taylor. What a joy to be a parent or grandparent and watch your girls perform on one of these “teams.”
Back in my younger years, before I was a father or grandfather, I used to be amazed that those high-kicking young ladies at halftime shows could kick so high, dance so fast, and smile so pretty, while I had trouble doing the Chicken Dance. Now that this grandpa’s arthritis has forced him to use a walking cane, I’m happy I can still raise my feet high enough off the floor to walk!
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired WCJC teacher and LCMS pastor, and author of two books, Open Prairies and It Must Be the Noodles.