As a kid, I loved parades. Big floats rolled slowly past the station wagon where my brother and sisters and I sat on the open tailgate. Sometimes, sparkly people riding on floats threw candy, and we scurried with scores of other kids to grab as many little candies as our pockets could hold. Happy, beautiful people waved from convertibles like they were having the time of their lives. I felt the bass drums deep in my body as big bands marched by in their smart uniforms led by dazzling twirlers. My favorite, though, what I truly waited for, were the Kilgore College Rangerettes. The pranced by in perfect unison, white cowgirl hats tipped on their pretty hair, brilliant smiles, the taps on their white cowgirl boots clicking on the bricked street.
I grew up in East Texas in what was a small town back in the 60’s, Longview. Around Longview were several much smaller towns like Kilgore. As a result, Rangerettes founder Gussie Nell Davis was an important name everyone knew, and we were spoiled with Rangerette appearances at many events and parades throughout our childhood. It was one of those things we grew up with never realizing the Rockettes star-status our Rangerettes held the world over.
In fact, because my siblings and I so loved parades, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was an annual event in my childhood home. I vividly recall the time we squealed aloud for Mom to “Hurry! Come see!” Our Rangerettes were marching there in New York City among the giant balloons and dancers and entertainers on TV! That was our first inkling that our Rangerettes were famous beyond East Texas.
It wasn’t until Thin Line’s premier of “Sweethearts of the Gridiron” this afternoon that I really grasped just how famous the Rangerettes are, and more importantly why. I was never into drill team, though several nieces over the years have provided glimpses into the hours of practice and discipline required to succeed even at tender, elementary levels. I walked away from this film by director Chip Hale profoundly impressed and with new appreciation for how the Rangerettes changed football when they first took the field at halftime back in 1941, not to mention the fierce dedication these ladies have to their athletic game of choice.
Make no mistake, Rangerettes are athletes. The film takes viewers through Rangerette hopefuls’ preparation to join this elite team, many ladies having begun their journey as little girls with a dream. While their playmates played, they focused on dance classes, drill team training, and demanding summer dance and drill camps. I am reminded of the uncanny intensity of Olympic want-to-bees, even as young children.
Like with any great team, many try out, but only some make the cut. The film lets viewers experience both ends of Rangerette d-day when the new team is finalized. There is a bit of “Miss Congeniality” in the taut emotions the audience shares in these moments, but hey, at my age, it’s as close as I’ll ever get to the real thing.
Besides the fact that the Rangerettes are a genuine Texas icon, my biggest takeaway from “Sweethearts of the Gridiron” is the classiness of the Rangerettes organization as a whole. These are ladies with poise, grace, and lady-ness. They are finer, grander ladies because of their Rangerette experience, affected with life-long secrets of success.
“Sweethearts of the Gridiron” screens again tomorrow morning, Sunday, February 22, at 10:00 a.m. It’s a delightfully, eye-opening, do-not-miss.