Alive and Kicking

Every summer, girls from across the state compete to win a coveted spot on the mother of all drill teams, the Kilgore Rangerettes—a Texas tradition that still has legs.

IF RANGERETTES RULED THE WORLD, there’d be so much discipline,” said Lory Lyon, who was on the lower bunk bed in a dorm room at Kilgore College.

“And respect,” added her friend Morgan Duplant, sitting cross-legged on the upper bunk. “The words ‘slut’ and ‘ho’ would not exist.”

“It’d be happy—so joyous,” Lory said. “There’d be motivation to be a better person.”

As I sat on the floor talking with Lory and Morgan, another girl walked into the room and joined the conversation. “Women would be more ladylike, wearing closed-toe shoes and tights,” she said. “And they’d sit properly in public.” The girls all nodded in agreement.

Although some might consider the Kilgore Rangerettes an anachronism, dozens of fresh-faced teens from across the state flock to this East Texas junior college every summer to try out for the drill team. Most of them have already been accepted at the school, but some will apply only if they make the squad. This year Lory, who is from Longview, and Morgan, from Beaumont, were among the 78 girls from small towns and big cities who competed for thirty or so coveted spots on the high-kicking squad. Both girls are nineteen-year-old sophomores, with perfect, tanned skin and smooth brown hair. Lory says that Morgan looks like a flamingo, on account of her long, thin limbs; Morgan says that, with her tiny nose and big, round eyes, Lory looks like Cindy Lou Who.

Lory and Morgan had been practicing their kicking and dancing all summer, but they had dreamed of being Rangerettes practically forever: “Since I was three,” they told me in unison. Morgan heard about the group from her mother, who was on the team in the mid-seventies. Lory heard about them from her aunt and her great-aunt, who were both Rangerettes—“Plus my brother was a manager for three years,” she said proudly. In high school, Morgan was a cheerleader and a drama student and Lory was on the drill team. Though both had gone to Rangerette summer camp for years, they didn’t become friends until last year, when they bonded during the tryouts. When they weren’t chosen, they refused to let it get them down, for that is not the Rangerette way. Within seconds of wiping their tears, they decided to go ahead and attend the college, live together that fall in one of the dorms, take dance classes from the Rangerette choreographer, make friends with the Rangerettes, and try out again the next year.

Ever since oil was discovered in Kilgore, the town has produced only one other export: the Rangerettes. As all of them will tell you, they are much more than a precision drill team (although they invented the dancing drill team concept in 1940, thank you very much). “We have drill teams because of the Rangerettes,” Morgan told me. “They have had only three directors, and the uniforms have never changed, and, like, omigod.” To the outside world, the group is known for its seemingly effortless hat-brim-touching high kick, which has been performed as far away as Hong Kong and as nearby as the grand opening of the local Brookshire Brothers grocery store. But to the Rangerettes themselves, the organization is more of a military-style finishing school for girls with strong morals, a positive outlook, and the discipline of a drill sergeant. “What scares me is we’re picking the future members who will carry on the traditions,” a sophomore Rangerette told me. “They will be the ones passing this on.”

ON MONDAY MORNING OF THE LAST week in July, Lory, Morgan, and two other hopefuls were sitting around a table in the Kilgore College cafeteria, eating bowls of Cocoa Puffs and reciting the rules they had been given the night before. They were required to wear their hair in a ponytail on top of their heads. They were not allowed to wear makeup except for red lipstick. They had to pin a gigantic name tag on their solid-colored leotards. They could not wear jewelry, needless to say. Unless given permission to speak, they had to answer all questions from their assigned advisers and other sophomore Rangerettes with only “Yes, ma’am. Thank you, Miss Jones [or whatever].” The girls eyed one another across the table, cracking up at their goofy-looking hair fountains and bright-red lip gloss. There were reasons for these rules. “Many girls need to come to a more humble place,” director Dana Blair told me. “They have always been the officer and won everything and been the ‘it’ girl, and if we had all those egos running around, practice would be difficult.”

So far, the tryouts were similar in many ways to last year’s, Morgan said, chewing her cereal, “only this year it’s weird because the sophomores are all our friends.” But even though that was true—they had all lived in the same dorm as freshmen—Lory and Morgan were pretty well excluded from the Rangerette fun. The girls have a saying about the organization: “You can’t understand it from the outside, and you can’t explain it from the inside,” and last year Lory and Morgan might as well have been in Alaska.

I walked over to a table of sophomore Rangerettes. A group of a dozen or so stopped talking and looked up at me suspiciously when I asked to sit down. They were all wearing matching baseball shirts with “Rettes” printed on the front and their last names on the back. Their sporty accessories were perfectly color-coordinated, from mod tennies to glittery barrettes. On this particular day, the theme was red, white, and navy blue. The girls live together in the same dorm, eat together, and practice together, leaving one another only on weekends, when they drive back to their hometowns because there isn’t much to do in Kilgore, a town of 12,000. But wherever they go, they are, first and foremost, Rangerettes. “We’re really big on reputation,” Hillary Hoffman told me. She and her sisters, Hayley and Cali, who are from Coppell, have the distinction of being the drill team’s first triplets. “When

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