WAXAHACHIE — The Cherokee Charmers have been a proud part of the winning tradition at Waxahachie High School since the school year 1961-62. These young ladies are excited that their elite group is celebrating their 55th year as a drill team.
HISTORY OF DRILL TEAM
The Kilgore Rangerettes are heralded as the pioneers of the dancing/kicking/marching/strutting groups which later became known as “drill teams.” Their renown director was Gussie Nell Davis, a P.E. teacher at Kilgore College in East Texas. She became the founder of the Rangerettes in 1940, and under her direction, they became the first all-girl drill team to perform on a college football field. Mrs. Davis served 40 years as director of the world-famous, 65-member Rangerette organization. Because of their enormous popularity, these type of drill teams started popping-up in high schools in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
THE BIRTH OF THE CHARMERS
In October of 1961, a couple of WHS girlfriends came up with a bright idea for a special homecoming drill team. These ambitious young ladies were Nita (Sweatman) Jordan and Janet (Forest) Tenery.
It seemed to them that so many of their fellow students were busy in fall football, or in the band, or some were serving as school cheerleaders. In their eyes, many girls were somewhat left-out of the football action.
So, these two brave young ladies went to see the principal to get permission to have Janet make an announcement on the high school PA system. Sure enough, the principal agreed that she could ask for any girls interested in being a part of a new homecoming drill team to meet in the gym after school that day (about three weeks before homecoming). At that time, any high school girl that wanted to be on the line was automatically allowed to be part of the team.
Enough females showed-up to make a good-sized drill team — around 25 total. So, Nita called her big sister, Phyllis (Sweatman) Sulcer, to come home from college that weekend to teach the girls some routines to be performed on the football field at the homecoming halftime. Phyllis was a 1956 WHS graduate, but more importantly, she was a former Kilgore Rangerette — this woman knew a great deal about dance and team drill routines.
Even though she was busy finishing up her teaching degree at Sam Houston State, she agreed to come home to help the excited Waxahachie girls. They collectively decided on four officers to stand in front, so the line members could learn and remember the routines being taught by Sulcer.
THE CHEROKEE CHARMER UNIFORM
Next, some of the girls’ mothers and grandmothers became involved with getting the uniforms made within two or three weeks before homecoming night.
The adults drove to Dallas to obtain the things they would need — things like white fringe, wide rolls of green sequined bands for headbands, and white feathers.
Waxahachie’s own “The Cloth Shop” ordered several bolts of green felt. And, thus, they came up with very first WHS drill team uniform, which also included leather moccasins for their footwear.
In 1964 the uniforms changed, and they wore hats and socks and tennis shoes. During that year, the drill team needed a name. Everyone entered their ideas and then voted on the best ones — this was when the "Cherokee Charmers" were born.
The Charmers proudly represented their high school by performing at pep rallies, sporting events, and, in particular, at halftime during football games, as well as basketball games, parades, and other noteworthy community events.
Next, came the first official adult leader of the group, a P.E. teacher by the name of Mrs. Oltha Lee Blythe (deceased). She became the “advisor” of the group.
Because this “volunteering” lady didn’t have a lot of expertise in dancing and/or choreographing drill team routines, some of the Charmers (mainly officers) were transported to Southern Methodist University in Dallas for training.
There the girls learned halftime football shows, stand routines, as well as basic marching and strutting. The Kilgore Rangerette leader and famous icon, Gussie Nell Davis, was a big part of the instructions being taught at SMU. Based on a copy of the “Waxahachie Daily Light” newspaper dated August 2, 1964, this was the Charmers’ first official trip offsite for special training.
After the original girls’ — Nita and Janet — senior homecoming, in January 1962, Mrs. Sulcer’s family moved to Sulphur Springs, Texas and it was not until August 1963 that her husband’s job brought them back to Waxahachie.
When Ms. Blythe, the girls’ PE coach and advisor in those years, found out that Phyllis was back in Waxahachie and had been paid in Sulphur Springs to start their high school drill team, she met with the school board and they asked Phyllis to be the first “PAID” WHS drill team director. They even had team and officer tryouts!
Mrs. Gray and Mrs. Middleton, the home economics teachers at that time, actually made the first Charmer “uniforms” at the high school in the home economics classroom.
The suits were designed by Olivia Burton’s mom and resembled the Rangerette attire — except their colors were changed to the Waxahachie Indians’ green and white.
Mrs. Sulcer’s tenure with the Charmers was somewhat short-lived, as her family had to be relocated again and she reluctantly had to step down as director. At that juncture, she suggested a friend take over for her, so the Waxahachie ISD hired Kay (Lowrey) Freeman, another former member of the Kilgore Rangerettes from 1956-58. She served as the director at WHS from 1965-73. Along with the new routines and regimen of Mrs. Freeman, she made an even more significant step by ordering the first “boots” to be worn as part of the apparel of the Charmers.
INTERVIEW WITH A FORMER CHARMER DIRECTOR
In a recent interview with Mrs. Kay Freeman, she shared that, “Of course, the Charmers were somewhat patterned after the Rangerettes. That is all I knew about drill team routines, so that is what I taught my Waxahachie girls.”
During her eight years as their director, she trained the team to be excellent marchers, strutters, high-kick routine specialists, and they were highly regarded for their precision, jazzy choreography, and quick-move ripples down the drill team line.
Waxahachie’s drill team gained much more notoriety in 1973 under Mrs. Freeman, as they became the “National Champion Drill Team” after a large competition in Houston.
Mrs. Freeman admits that “My all-time favorite routines involved props – like pom-poms, umbrellas, maracas, tambourines, streamers, silk flags, boxes, tall and short ladders, hoops with streamers, etc.”
This former director still lives in Waxahachie with her husband, Roy.
INTERVIEW WITH THE CURRENT CHARMER DIRECTOR
Erica Pointer-Wilcox has been involved with the Charmers for 11 years. She first served two years as an assistant before taking over as director, a role she has held for the past nine years. She also teaches dance as an accredited class at WHS.
Mrs. Wilcox is also a proud Charmer alumna. She was on the team from 2000-03 and was captain her senior year. She attended Prairie View A&M University, where she danced four years with the Classic Dance Ensemble and obtained a dance minor. Her dream in high school was to return to WHS and be the director of the Cherokee Charmers — a dream she is now living.
When asked what her favorite part of her job is, she quickly replied, “The most rewarding part of my career is seeing each Charmer grow as a person, dancer, and mature throughout their years within the organization.”
Over the years, some of the wonderful Charmer traditions remain in place – like the strut-out to enter the football field at halftime, the high-kick routines continue as a favorite, and drill teams will probably always be famous for the down-the-line “ripples.” However, there has been much evolution in the area of dance over the 55 years of the Charmers’ existence. Here are some of today’s dance requirements to try-out for the Charmers, according to Mrs. Wilcox.
“The initial audition routine is a jazz/kick routine that is taught to each candidate in three days. Each candidate then presents the routine to a panel of judges, along with demonstrating their right, and left splits”. Wilcox adds, “Throughout the year we perform jazz routines, pom routines, high-kick routines, hip-hop routines, lyrical routines, military routines, and contemporary routines. Leaps are now also a part of their repertoire.”
Mrs. Wilcox laughingly told this reporter, “Our drill team season never ends!”
Here are some of the things that keep the current 31 Charmers (26 dancers and 5 managers) busy during the school year: Per Mrs. Wilcox, “The girls enjoy pep-rally performances, football games, basketball games, and elementary & junior high campus pep-rallies. Their big production of the year is their “Spring Show” where they showcase all their different routines they’ve learned during both fall and spring school terms. Also, we have several community performances throughout the year, and do a lot of community service work.”
According to Wilcox, some of the things these civic-minded girls are involved in include " an adopted a block in our city, and we make sure that it stays clean. We have volunteered with Waxahachie CARE, we volunteer with Waxahachie ISD Operation 1st Day of School, we volunteer with the Gingerbread Trail Tours, and we volunteer with the local YMCA Santa 5K Run. As you can tell, these young ladies stay very busy throughout the year, and they enjoy being servant leaders of the community.”
Mrs. Wilcox relays that, “The Charmers will be attending four dance competitions in the spring, beginning in January 2018. We will be taking four team routines and three officer routines. The JV drill team (Maidens), and the junior high drill teams (Chey-Annes) will be taking three routines each to competition.”
FUTURE CHARMER EVENTS
The drill team has their “Future Charmer Clinic” coming up on October 27th at the Cancer “Pink Out” football game. Mrs. Wilcox explains that this is their fall dance clinic where students ages 5-15 will have the opportunity to perform pre-game with the Charmers.
The Cherokee Charmers would like to “thank” the school and community for their support over their last 55 years of performing.