Rangerette Founder Gussie Nell Davis Dies
By Joe Simnacher
Staff Writer of The Dallas Morning News
December 21, 1993
Gussie Nell Davis, founder
of the Kilgore Rangerettes and creator of the Texas institution of
football halftime drill teams, died early Monday in a Kilgore hospital of
respiratory complications. She was 87.
Miss Davis developed the
pep squad during the 1930's as a Greenville High School physical education
teacher seeking a dance outlet for her students. In 1939, Kilgore College
hired her as director of physical education to attract more women students
and to keep fans seated during football halftime shows. The next fall and
for the next 40 years, Miss Davis and Rangerettes were legends.
"When Kilgore College and
Tyler Junior College play each other in football, it could be argued that
more people are in the stands to watch the girls at the halftime than to
watch the game," according to a 1974 Sports Illustrated article. "The
football teams are junior college, but the girls are big league."
A talented musician, Miss
Davis was groomed to be a concert pianist. After graduating from
Farmersville High School in 1921, she entered the College of Industrial
Arts in Denton, now Texas Woman's University, where she majored in
physical education. She earned a master's degree in science from the
University of Southern California.
In a 1973 interview, Miss
Davis said: "All I ever really wanted was to dance on the stage. But I
grew up in Farmersville, and in Farmersville, if you danced, you were
thrown out of the church - any church."
When Miss Davis founded
the drill team concept during the '30s, kick was a four letter word. As a
college student, dance classes were called folk games and rhythms, "or
some such evasive title," she once said. "But I knew it was for me."
It was another prohibition
that opened the door for her dream. At Kilgore College, the president was
unhappy with the rowdy antics of oil patch football fans drinking under
the stands at halftime. He wanted them sober in their seats. Miss Davis'
drill team put them there. But to her students, the drill team was more
like finishing school.
Jeanne Hale, a retired
Kilgore College spokeswoman and former Radio City Music Hall Rockette,
said: "To me, the most important thing the Rangerettes accomplished was
not dancing and entertainment. Gussie Nell gave these girls a foundation
for life. She taught them that, through hard work and dedication to a
goal, they could accomplish anything."
At Kilgore, Miss Davis
developed a reputation as a cross between a Miss America chaperone and a
drill sergeant from Parris Island.
"You didn't do that
perfect, so you're going to do it all over again," she told her students
in 1973. "Never settle for less than perfect. Just remember who you are.
You're a Rangerette."
Susan Robb of Dallas, a
1977 Rangerette, said that Miss Davis was an original. "She was the
greatest," Ms. Robb said. "She came up with the idea of a precision dance
line on the football field. She was really the originator of precision
Miss Davis directed the
Rangerettes until her retirement in 1980. Under her guidance, the East
Texas drill team became internationally known. It appeared on The Ed
Sullivan Show and at every Cotton Bowl Classic halftime since 1951.
Before the 1973 Cotton
Bowl, Miss Davis said she was as excited as if it were her first show.
"People want to know why
this is important," she said. "You know, honey, there's a little ham in
all of us. Most people just don't get their chance to let it out. The
girls come to me, and for two years they get the chance to perform all the
things in the spotlight they dreamed about."
Funeral services will be
Wednesday, December 22, at 11 a.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in
Kilgore. Burial will be in Farmersville cemetery. Memorials may be made to
the Rangerette Showcase Museum or the Gussie Nell Davis Rangerette
Scholarship, both at Kilgore College.
American Dance/Drill Team
SchoolŪ was founded in 1958, by Miss Gussie Nell Davis, the First Lady of
Drill Team, and Dr. Irving Dreibrodt, as the first educational school for
drill teams in the United States.