USA FF Review: ‘Sweethearts Of The Gridiron’ Celebrates The Kilgore Rangerettes

Greetings again from the darkness. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the first time the Kilgore Rangerettes took the field at halftime of a football game. Their iconic high-kicks have become popular all over the world and at many types of events. For those outside the world of Rangerettes and Dance/Drill Teams, the history has been mostly unknown … until this documentary from filmmaker Chip Hale.

On September 12, 1940 director Gussie Nell Davis sent her first line of Kilgore Rangerettes onto the field to perform at halftime of a football game. It was a performance that was to change the way halftime entertainment was handled in high school and college football, and later in basketball as well. Gussie Nell Davis spent the next 40 years as director of the Kilgore Rangerettes, and even today (she passed away in 1993) is remembered at every camp and competition held by the American Dance/Drill Team School – an organization she helped found.

Director Hale introduces us to three living members of that first line … 90-something’s that are still friends and still proud of their time as Rangerettes. One even wears a sparkly shirt that states “Rangerettes Forever”. There are also brief interviews of other former Rangerettes, plus the current director and assistant director. Taking up most of the screen time is a look at the training and tryout camp for Rangerettes “hopefuls” – the girls looking to make the step from high school pep squad to “the world famous Kilgore Rangerettes”.

For those parents (like me) who have a daughter who danced, the workouts, practicing, rehearsal of routines, marking performances, and the extreme physical and emotional pressure that goes with all of it, is all too familiar … and brings back memories (some good and some not-so-good). For those new to the dance world, the physicality and extreme workout and practice schedule will probably be shocking. The combination of athleticism, grace, technique and tenacity necessary for success are comparable to anything that football (or any other sport) players must possess.

It’s a slight disappointment that the film focuses so much on the pressure-cooker (one of the hopefuls calls it an “emotional massacre”) that is the tryout process, as tracking down more former Rangerettes would have been fascinating. We get a few stories – successful business women, teachers, etc – but so much is made of the confidence and presence and self-esteem that the program delivers, it really would have been insightful to meet more of these successful women, and note their contributions to society.

As impressive as the high-kicks are to behold, the Kilgore Rangerettes program deserves to be celebrated even more for its development of role models and citizens who understand hard work and teamwork. These are people who go on to make a difference in society. They ‘do their best, and do it with a smile’. In other words … “Once a Rangerette, always a Rangerette”.

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