How does a coach prepare his team for the big game, the one it has waited for all season, the one that will be seen by 73,000 spectators and by 40 million TV watchers? Well, if the coach is Miss Gussie Nell Davis of Kilgore College (above), she begins by teaching each member how to sit, stand and walk, how to keep rhythm, poise and balance and how to smile, smile, smile. Gussie Nell, you see, is in charge of the Kilgore (Texas) Rangerettes, who will perform at halftime in the Cotton Bowl.
The Rangerettes' preparations for the halftime show began on Aug. 10 when 173 girls showed up for tryouts. By the time Gussie Nell had put them through her own version of a Vince Lombardi training camp, the group had been cut down to 65. Of these, 48 perform in the "line," five officers serve "out front" and the rest—a sort of taxi squad—fill in for those who don't maintain a C average, who hit a slump or who cannot take the grind. Rangerettes compete for berths by going through five-day-a-week September-through-May workouts that prepare them for 45 shows annually.
"Every day is a blitz," says Miss Davis, a 5'2½", 94-pound sprite who has better moves than most flankerbacks. Just the other day she was seen vaulting a four-foot-high fence to save a few steps. Since 1939 she and her teams have traveled more than 1,000,000 miles to put on some 1,200 shows. They have strutted and stepped at the Cotton Bowl for two decades and have enlivened the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade since 1967.
Gussie Nell's first job was as phys. ed. instructor and pep team coach at Greenville (Texas) High School in 1928. Pep in Greenville meant letting a few pigeons escape from a box during football games. Gussie changed that routine fast, organizing the Flaming Flashes and beginning a new art form. "There were drill teams before, but none that used dance steps," she explains. Now there are hundreds of drill and dance teams throughout the country.
In 1939 she got a call from the president of Kilgore, who was fed up with seeing football crowds vanish at halftime. So Gussie Nell came to town, and now folks in Kilgore brag as much about the Rangerettes as about Van Cliburn, who grew up there and went to the college, or about its 1,000 oil wells.
Rangerette precision is unparalleled. Once a girl dropped her pompons and another wore two left boots, but those are the gravest errors on record. No scholarships are given to the girls, who have come from almost all 50 states, because, as Gussie says, being a Rangerette is an honor within itself. Indeed, the pride among the Rangerettes, whose name and red, white and blue uniforms are copyrighted, is impressive. They exhort one another to work harder, kick higher and not to complain, even when they must practice by moonlight.
Gussie Nell watches out for her girls, as a former assistant football coach at Kilgore learned after dating one of them. "I've been chewed out by Bear Bryant and by other coaches all over the country, but I never got chewed out like I did by Gussie Nell," he said.
Gussie has been left speechless only once—on the night of the very first Rangerette show. At halftime of the football game that evening the stadium lights were turned out as her girls filed onto the field. Then the sky was ignited by a fireworks display, the lights flashed on and there were the Rangerettes doing their stuff. But no one made a sound. Gussie Nell trembled. Before long, though, the stunned crowd began applauding—as it has been ever since.