Up in the open press box at the Kilgore College stadium sat Gussie Nell, a thin, frail, ferociously energetic little strawberry-blonde woman whose age seems to have been suspended in her early 20s, though her body went on to grow older. Because of the rain, it was the first day her Rangerettes had been able to practice on a field with the band this season, and tomorrow night was the game in Tyler.
"I'm not fussing at those girls, I'm just loud," Gussie Nell said. "They can hear me all the way across the Cotton Bowl. They can hear me from the press box at Soldier Field. Oh, look at that mud! The field in Tyler is going to be slow. We have to work to the tempo of what the field will let us do. Every person has his own sense of rhythm, and so does every group. The Texas University band is fast, SMU is fast, Texas A&M is slow. What we are is military. We need a dry field for our precision. I would just as soon it would rain and wash us out as to have to perform in the mud."
Another reason Gussie Nell was somewhat agitated was that the Rangerettes' choreographer, Denard Haden, was in the hospital, and this new routine had been devised in four days by Gussie Nell and her assistant, Deana Bolton, mostly in the gym with Mrs. Chris Stewart, who used to play the piano for silent films. The big number was to be Scrub Me, Mama, with a Boogie Beat, a tribute to the Andrews Sisters. Knox Lamb, Rangerette prop man for 35 years, had ordered 72 scrub boards. Between the order and the shipment, the price of scrub boards had nearly doubled, and that knocked a few extra dollars out of the Rangerettes' tiny budget of $2,700 a year.
"And we've had the hardest time figuring out how to keep the thimbles on the girls' fingers when they rub the boards," Gussie Nell said. "We tried tape, and now we've added Silly Putty. Hey, down there! You're bunching up on your exit, you girls at the 45-yard line."
"Thank you, Miss Davis!"
Davis Hall, named for Gussie Nell, is where the Rangerettes live for their two years at Kilgore College, unless they are girls from nearby towns who prefer to commute from home, and that is rare. The college has about 4,000 students and is state-supported. By charter it is not called a junior college, although it is one. Kilgore College sponsors a police academy and has a nursing school, a large music department, the usual engineering and liberal arts departments and more than 40 clubs and organizations, including the Rangerettes.
Girls do not get scholarships for being Rangerettes and only receive credit for a one-hour PE class that in reality takes up about 15 hours a week. But if one wonders what attracts so many sweet, cheerful little dumplings to Kilgore, it is purely the hope of becoming a Rangerette. Tryouts are held on the second Wednesday of a two-week training period, and there might be 250 girls competing for 30 open spots in the line. The senior Rangerettes help choose the new ones.
Then the new ones move into Davis Hall and learn the Rangerette Way. They keep up their grades. They lose weight if told to. They observe a curfew. They are taught not to drink, smoke or chew gum in a Rangerette uniform. Of the 65 girls, only 48 (plus the five officers) will be on the field at one time, so they compete to please Gussie Nell. They have managers, just like the football team has managers, to carry stuff around and help with the wounded (pulled hamstrings and other calamities). The five managers are boys.
"In this job you get to know all kinds of girls—girls who like to party, noisy girls, quiet girls," says Dale Chafin, a tall, red-haired sophomore who is the head manager. "But you can spot a Rangerette when she walks across the campus. She might be pretty homely, but she's really alive-looking and thinks she's beautiful, so she's beautiful. Miss Davis knows everything that goes on with them. She's a cool lady. As long as their personal lives don't get too messed up, she stays out of their business."
The Rangerettes have performed at 46 bowl and all-star games, including 24 Cotton Bowls and five of the College All-Star games in Chicago, marched in three Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parades in New York, appeared at countless conventions, have had a number dedicated to them in the current Ice Capades, toured Venezuela, appeared at Eisenhower's first inaugural, etc. Their expenses are usually paid by the organization that invites them, and a "donation" to the Rangerette fund is shyly suggested. Money in the fund is spent on trips. The Rangerettes are not tightly chaperoned on the road, but guards are posted on their hotel floors to deflect amorous groupies and dirty old men. Gussie Nell is dismayed that anyone would even imply that sex has anything to do with the Rangerettes' appeal. "Sex is a word I have never used with my girls, and I never will," she says, adding, "Sure, I tell them that when they're out on that field I want them to forget they're mama's little girls and project! After the game they're mama's little girls again."