The 1983-2012 Highland Belles: The History
The Power of Texas Drill Teams
“When I began Highland Park High School in the fall of 1981, I noticed right away an intense emotion shared by all the students, a sentiment known as ‘Scot Pride.’ Academically, our school was one of the best in the nation, and our athletics programs were among the best in the state. Students at Highland Park knew their school was a place of tradition, excellence, and success,” said Tracey Taylor Frattaroli, HPHS class of 1985, of her beloved Alma Matter. But in 1983, there were many girls like Tracey that yearned to belong to something that was missing in the halls of Highland Park. These girls would eventually become the charter members of the Highland Belles.
Tracey recalls, “Hearing a rumor that a girls dancing group or ‘drill team’ might be in the works.” School administrators held a meeting to gauge support, and eagerly she attended. A number of parents and their hopeful daughters were there to register support, but critics were numerous. Many students, parents, faculty, and administrators felt a drill team was beneath the dignity of a sophisticated place like Highland Park. “Drill teams were for schools from the less affluent parts of town,” they said. “How could Highland Park High School be assured that this group of dancing girls wouldn’t embarrass its hallowed traditions?”
One new member of the faculty was vocal in her support for a drill team. She steadfastly maintained that a drill team would gain acceptance, but only if it were done properly. She knew that with the right group of dedicated girls, parent support, and an unimaginable amount of hard work, Highland Park could have its drill team and even be proud of it. The faculty member was also brave enough to agree to oversee the process of getting the group started, once asked. This person was none other than Cathy Wheat.
Mrs. Wheat’s stellar career before Highland Park made her an obvious “perfect fit” as a P.E. teacher and creator of the drill team for the school district. She received her Bachelor of Science Degree from Texas Tech University with a minor in Biology and a Master’s from East Texas in Physical Education. She was a Kilgore Rangerette, the world’s first dance-drill team that took pride in their supremely ladylike demeanor and their high kicks. Mrs. Wheat’s vision and persistence made the Belles a reality.
Fortunately for HPHS, Mrs. Wheat and the pro-drill team forces received permission to begin the task of building a team from the ground up. From the beginning, Mrs. Wheat insisted on only the highest standards in every aspect of the new group. She knew that anything short of perfection would be a victory for the naysayers. Mrs. Wheat realized even then that an entire community would never get to enjoy the benefits of a drill team if the first group was not a success.
In March of 1983, Mrs. Wheat conducted the first-ever HPHS Highland Belles tryouts. She instructed the would-be Belles that only those who performed well for the judges would make the team. Mrs. Wheat was determined to take only quality dancers, even if it meant a drill team of ten girls. She was looking for something special in the first group of girls, something that would characterize the Belles of the future. She was looking for girls who could unflinchingly devote themselves to the hard work ahead, wholeheartedly submit themselves to the discipline necessary to create a successful drill team, and willingly act as role models for girls throughout the school and community. She needed young women who would be worthy of “Scot Pride.”
At the end of tryouts that year, thirty-three girls proudly accepted their invitations to become the charter members of the HPHS Highland Belle Drill Team (two of the members moved away from Highland Park after tryouts, therefore there were thirty-one drill team members in the 1983-84 year). The Belles worked out after school since they had not achieved status as a legitimate sports team. They wore navy leotards, navy leggings and navy skirt with pink leg warmers, Keds and a pink headband. Most of the girls had little actual dance training, and had no idea what was to lie ahead. The early days of stretching, strength-building, and learning how to perfectly perform routines were some of the hardest days as new Belles.
The very first performance for the newly formed Highland Belles was in May of 1983 at the Blue vs. Gold inter-squad football game. They performed their tryout routine on the football field and received a standing ovation. Highland Belles continued to perform in the navy leotard, leggings and skirt until the official uniform was designed and approved by the HPISD school board in the fall of 1983. The “Fringe” was worn for the first time at the game six pep rally, where the girls received an eight minute standing ovation. Mrs. Wheat had ironically chosen “The Last Dance” by Donna Summers as the Belles first dance in their new uniform. The entire student body watched as the Belles stunning performance electrified the crowd. From that point forward, the new drill-team had received approval from the students, faculty, parents and administration.
Today a new generation of Belles carries on in the same spirit as the first group. Charter members never dreamed that the Belles would become so popular and successful, or that future Belles would execute such dazzling routines with such amazing flexibility, grace and precision. Little girls in the community look up to the Belles and aspire to emulate them. Some begin dancing as early as age three in hopes of someday becoming a Belle. Families take their daughters to the Friday night football games just to watch the Belles perform at halftime.
The Belles’ rigorous tryout process is an important foundation to the success of the team. Third-party judges have always been used to make the decisions during tryouts in order to ensure that the most qualified girls will be on the team. During the Belles’ first year, thirty-three girls made the team out of a group of seventy-five. Today, the Belles still follow the same tryout protocols – for example, there is no set number of girls, meaning the size of the team varies from year to year, based on the talent exhibited by the candidate pool.
Most of the girls that tryout for Belles have been dancing since they could walk, and the fall before tryouts is the most important three months of their lives as far as their training goes. They dance morning, day and night with private lessons in between. The week of tryouts the girls go to extreme measures to ensure that they have the best tryout they can. The whole process lasts one week. Monday through Thursday are spent learning a jazz routine, a kick combination and a pom combination. On Thursday evening, all candidates participate in a mock tryout. This process helps ensure that each candidate is fully ready for the tryout on Friday.
The day of judged tryouts the “old girls” perform first. While these girls have been Belles for one or two years before, their spot is not secure, and therefore they must tryout as well. After a short break for the judges, it is time to start tryouts for the potential “new girls.” The girls are each given a number to wear during the tryout, and are moved into groups of four. Each group slowly makes the long walk from the basketball gym (and now the mezzanine area) to the center of the Belles gym. Once the music starts, the girls perform to the best of their ability in front of three to four judges. When the dance routine is finished, they have about a minute to catch their breath and line up for the kick routine. After the kick routine and pom combination, the girls exit the gym and wait patiently while the rest of the groups perform. Sometimes the order of the three routines changes from year to year. Once all the groups have performed and the judges have made their decisions, the girls are instructed to line up in numerical order. They enter the Belles gym to find little envelopes in rows all along the floor. The girls are then instructed to kneel beside their envelope. The gym that is normally full of excitement and laughter is silent while the director thanks all the girls for their hard work and great tryouts. She then tells the girls that when they are ready, they may open their envelope. The envelopes formally contained a yellow paper bell for the girls that made the team, and a prayer and a small white piece of paper, for those that did not make the team. Currently, the envelope contains instructions on how to log on to a website to see the list of girls who have indeed made the Highland Belles. Those that make the team return to the gym for the same traditions of being introduced for the first time. The girls sit in a circle in the middle of the gym and say the famous words, “I’m __, and DING DONG, I’M A BELLE!”
Like most athletic groups, the Highland Belles have their share of traditions and performance superstitions. While some of these traditions have slowly diminished, others have held strong over the years. This is a compiled list of all the Belle traditions to date.
Day One as a Belle: on the first day of school after the new team is selected, all “new girls” wear their yellow paper bell. During lunch hours, “old girls” will instruct the “new girls” to introduce themselves, to the upperclassmen. The “new girl” will stand on a lunch table and yell at the top of her lungs, “I’m ___, and Ding Dong, I’m a Belle!”
Big Sis/Lil Sis: a spring get-together when the “new girls” receive their surprise big sisters. The big sis will make matching t-shirts for the pair with a family name.
Bubba’s Breakfast: a team breakfast at the end of off-season where the big sisters take the little sisters to Bubba’s. The social officers hand out awards to girls that stood out for various reasons during the off-season. This is typically held on the last day of Belles practice prior to spring finals.
Belles Night Out: the content of this night is classified information. No Belle will ever tell what happens on this very special night. It is at the end of August two-a-days practice. Two-a-days practice occurs morning and afternoon for two weeks prior to the first day of school. This is the time when the Belles learn all of their pep rally and football routines as well as the traditional strut on to the field. Many long hours are spent getting ready for the upcoming football season.
Wooden Bells: the social officers give these out before the first football game. The wooden bells have the football team’s slogan on one side and the year on the other. Yellow is for the team members, white for the Lieutenants and blue for the social officers.
Game day Spirit Bells: on game days, the team wears yellow paper bells with catchy slogans and phrases to support the football team.
Lieutenants Baton: every Belle that has become a lieutenant has received the original baton. There are five batons that are passed from year to year. Each baton has the initials and year of the lieutenant that has carried it. This started in 1984.
Prayer Circles: before each performance, the Chaplain will lead the Belles in prayer. The girls will stand in a circle arms crossed and holding the hand of the person next to them. When the prayer is over, the Belles will untangle their arms and turn out of the circle.
Lucky Fringe: before dancing at half-time, the first person in line will pull a piece of fringe from her uniform, kiss it and pass it down the line. The last person in line will then tie the fringe on her uniform for the performance.
Sock Verse: the Chaplain gives each of the girls a bible verse on a small slip of bright paper and the girls fold the prayer and put them in their socks before they danced.
Spaghetti Supper: the Belles’ only fundraiser. Each year the annual event marks a time of chaos as well as unity for the Belles. Although tickets are handed out to each Belle during two-a-days, the planning and organization of this large fundraiser takes place from the leadership of parent committees’ months before. Many Belles begin calling friends and family before tickets go on sell to ensure that supporters will buy tickets from them.
Belle Blankets: early on, the Belles elected to have a blanket with their letters instead of a letter jacket. These navy blue, wool blankets are monogrammed with all of their achievements each year.
Lieutenants, Social Officers and Captains
There are five girls selected each year known as the Lieutenants. After an intense try out process, each lieutenant receives her white “Fringe” and Belles’ baton. The Lieutenant Strut is an adaptation of the officer entrance performed by the Kilgore College Rangerettes. Mrs. Wheat choreographed the strut and taught it to the Lieutenants each year. These girls have very strong leadership qualities, and are superb dancers. Each Lieutenant is assigned an equal number of girls for her group. After checking attendance, they work with their group to perfect the dances and prepare for performances. They spend a lot of time studying dances from videotape so they can incorporate new and different choreography into their routines. They critique the dancers and are available for any questions or extra help needed during and outside of drill team. During football season, they hold extra practices on Sunday afternoons before a dance tryout to help every girl in their group make the routine. They then assist in the weekly tryout process and evaluate a member’s readiness to perform the routine. The final decision on who makes the dance is left to the Director. They stay in touch with their group to communicate important information, and they bake cookies and treats for special occasions and football games. They stay late or come early if a Belle or director need extra assistance. The team’s hard work and dedication makes their work much easier and worth the extra time. There are many things that the Lieutenants do every year that are tradition. Some of these include making a candy basket for the other drill team to be exchanged after half-time when the drill team officers meet. The Lieutenants also make Friday night snack bags that they give each member of their squad after half time as a treat. These bags typically include a “sweet” and a “salty” snack.
The social officers are committed to making the drill team experience fun and light hearted. They work throughout the year to give holiday parties and other special events so that the drill team is not just “all work and no play.” For example, the social officers throw a Secret Santa Party, Easter Egg Hunt with a Golden Egg, Big Sis/Lil Sis party and End of the Year party. Together they plan Belles Night Out in August at the end of two-a-days and the Belle Banquet held in the spring. The banquet is an end of year wrap up and celebration. Even though each of the social officers has a specific job, they work closely together. The President, with the help of the Vice-President, organizes all activities and decides what parties will be thrown, as well as, deciding other Belle activities for the year. The Secretary takes pictures for publicity, decorations and the Banquet slide show. The Treasurer balances the checkbook and monitors the spending, and the Chaplain keeps spirits high and team motives in place. The goal is to communicate with the members and make sure that everyone is always included. Recognizing girls with special talents other than dancing is as important as establishing a friendly, caring and stress-free atmosphere.
In twenty-nine years, the Belles have only had three girls to ever be chosen as Captain. This is a very special honor given to a girl that embodies the whole spirit of a Belle. She must have talent, natural leadership skills, be a good teacher, an outstanding role model to the girls and community, and be very organized. The following girls have been given this honor:
- 1985 – Ashley McLain
- 1992 – Allison Kelly
- 2000 – Christine Stephens
Highland Belle Booster Club
This 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization was formed in the first year that the Highland Belles existed – 1984. It is made up of all the parents of the current year Highland Belles and its purpose is to raise funds to support the drill team organization. The Belles Booster Club produces the annual Spaghetti Supper which includes an auction and raffle. Funds generated from this fundraiser pay for accessories, buses, contest fees, travel and much more.
Parents are requested to participate financially to the organization through dues and donations. Additionally, they are required to volunteer in several key positions to ensure the team is supported the entire school year. One of their volunteer positions involves staffing the annual Spaghetti Supper, auction and raffle event. This annual event is traditionally held each fall and coincides with the first home football game. The Highland Belles serve as hostesses and work the event wearing their fringe uniform. Parents fully plan, organize and orchestrate this huge event that serves dinner to over 500 patrons. The event serves dinner from 5-7 PM so that attendees can easily move on to Highlander Stadium and enjoy the Scots football game.
The Highland Belles booster club operates under its own set of by-laws and has board of directors consisting of a President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, Spaghetti Supper Chairs, Auction Chairs and a Raffle Chair. Other positions/jobs are taken care of through an annual staffing of committee chairs and volunteers.
Highland Belle Scholarships
There are currently two scholarships in place that honor Highland Belles. The first was established in honor of the founder – Cathy Wheat. In 2005 when Mrs. Wheat retired, the booster club decided to have a $500 scholarship that would embody all of the traits and values that she instilled through Belles. The criteria include: Must take lessons all four years and work at full speed in drill team 100% of the time, never gives up trying to improve, works off to the side whenever there is a break, always on task, exceptional attitude, always puts the team first, excellent role model, respected and looked up to by entire team, character above reproach and displays a love of drill team up to the last day. Mrs. Wheat is the only person who can award this most prestigious honor.
The second scholarship was established in 2011. The senior parents of the graduating class of 2011 created a “Served by the Belles” cookbook in order to have funds to annually award this scholarship. The Highland Belles Scholarship will be awarded to two Senior Belles or Managers who represent the values, character, traditions, leadership, and legacy of the Highland Belles Drill Team. This Scholarship is to be awarded one time after high school graduation in the amount of $1500 per Senior Belle or Manager who is recognized by her peers for leadership, congeniality, and sportsmanship and is also identified by faculty for her maturity and judgment as well as contributions to Belles and HPHS. A minimum GPA of 3.25 is required.
For twenty-two years, Cathy Wheat served as the Highland Belles director. A former director for Irving High School’s drill team, Mrs. Wheat helped make the Belles a reality by endorsing the drill team to the school board and helping the charter members gain acknowledgement. She was a teacher for the American Dance/Drill School for over twenty years, and has taught at drill camps around the nation. Mrs. Wheat was chosen by Cheers magazine as the number one drill team instructor in the nation and was the first director to be inducted into the Drill Team Hall of Fame. She was a member of the Kilgore Rangerettes and graduated from Texas Tech University. Many of the traditions that still exist today – the Fringe, the training schedule and the selection process for All Americans, Kick Company and Miss High Kick were implemented under Mrs. Wheat’s direction. Mrs. Wheat retired from Highland Park High School in 2005.
Christie Crummel was named as the second director of the Highland Belles in 2005 after having a cross over year in 2004-2005 with Mrs. Wheat. Miss Crummel came to Highland Park after serving as a drill team director at Cleburne High School and Irving McArthur High School. A seasoned instructor at Marching Auxiliaries, she introduced the Highland Belles to a second contest each year – the MA Grapevine Regional’s contest. The team also began attending the Contest of Champions National Competition at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. One of the additions that Miss Crummel brought to Highland Park Belles was her expertise in Hip Hop. The Belles began to perform this type of routine more often and it became a tradition to do a Hip Hop routine at the homecoming game pep rally. She also grew the fine arts dance department tremendously, exposing her students to many forms of dance. Under her direction, the Belles continued to excel at competing and winning in annual contests while maintaining their excellent performance level on the field and basketball court. Miss Crummel served from 2005 – 2011.
Shannon Harty became the third director of the Highland Belles on May 5, 2011. A former Sergeant and Captain of the Kilgore Rangerettes, Ms. Harty’s work experience includes serving as director of the Westlake High School Hyline and the Lake Highlands High School Highlandettes, as well as director of the Desperados country and western dance team at Richardson High School. She is a staff member for Encore Creative Productions, and a current board member for the Texas Dance Educators Association. Ms. Harty brings nine years of experience to the Belles organization, helping to maintain and grow the success of the Belles today and into the future. She is a graduate of Sam Houston State University.
Emily Sanchez was named the first Assistant Director of the Highland Belles in 2011. After graduating from Fort Worth Country Day in 1999, Emily furthered her dance education at Stephen F. Austin State University. She was a member of the Stephen F. Austin Repertory Dance Company for two years before transferring to Texas State University in San Marcos. In San Marcos, she was a member of the Orchesis Modern Dance Company for three years and served as Vice-President of the organization in 2004. Emily graduated magna cum laude from Texas State University with a Bachelor of Science in Dance with Secondary Teaching Certification and a minor in Psychology. Since graduating, she also obtained All-level Certification in Physical Education. From 2006-2009 Emily worked at L.C. Anderson High School in Austin as a dance teacher and Assistant Director of the award-winning Trojan Belle Dance Team.
The Belles Today
What makes a Highland Belle so special? Twenty-nine years of tradition and a legacy of excellence have shaped our Highland Belles into a one-of-a-kind, award-winning drill team – year over year.
Belles are well known throughout Highland Park and the dance/drill community for their work ethic, technique and precision routines. Belle performances include military, jazz, pom, high kick, prop, and novelty selections. The Highland Belles represent the commitment to excellence that is shared by the students of Highland Park High School and the community.
The Belles did not have lieutenants until their second year – but the leadership of the lieutenants has remained a vital component to the Belles’ success in subsequent years. These five officers lead the team in every practice and performance. In addition to the lieutenants, five social officers are selected to share the student leadership responsibilities of the team.
The Highland Belles have always achieved a great deal of success in dance/drill team competitions both at the local and national level. In the early years, the team traveled to New Orleans to compete in the American Dance/Drill Team Mardi Gras contest and received numerous awards. In later years, the Belles added a second contest which is held annually in Grapevine. They now attend national contest in Orlando, traveling each year to compete with all of their routines. Many of the traditions that still exist today – the Fringe, the training schedule and the selection process for Lieutenants, All Americans, Kick Company and Miss High Kick were all started at the very beginning in 1983.
Although the style of dancing has changed over the years – the tempos are faster and the turns and leaps more advanced – the Belles tradition of excellence will always continue.
Charter members of the Highland Belles 1983-84
(The charter year of the Highland Belles did not have Lieutenants. Mrs. Wheat identified three members who had more dance and leadership experience to help her in that first year.)
- Macy Pat Pettigrew
- Robyn Plumlee
- Sonya Roark
- April Abney
- Tracy Adlet
- Tina Bernet
- Carolyn Cash
- Holly Chamness
- Melissa Cheatum
- Ann Conner
- Susan Floyd
- Lisa Franckhauser
- Gypsie Fulgham
- Meredith Glasscock
- Kim Jacobs
- Shannon Kelly
- Ashley McLain
- Laura Norman
- Cyndi Parker
- D’Ann Pletcher
- Renee Randolph
- Toni Rothpletz
- Carol Rubarts
- Susan Shelton
- Stephanie Storm
- Michelle Streckmann
- Tracey Taylor
- D’Ann Trammell
- Diane Welch
- Annie Wetsel
- Beth Wilson
- Elizabeth Harper
- Peggy Langworthy
- Laura Loy
- Elizabeth Mayfield
Highland Belle Lieutenants from left to right:
(These initials and years are engraved on the original batons)
|Year||Short Left||Medium Left||Tall Middle||Medium Right||Short Right|
|1983||No LT’s||No LT’s||No LT’s||No LT’s||No LT’s|
Highland Belle Booster Club Past Presidents
- 1984 – 85 Trish Norman & Nina Wilson
- 1985 – 86 Trish Norman
- 1986 – 87 Beverly Campbell
- 1987 – 88 Randi Halsell
- 1988 – 89 Gretchen Nearburg
- 1989 – 90 Fran Cox
- 1990 – 91 Leanne Korsmeier
- 1991 – 92 Judy Franklin
- 1992 – 93 Pam Conaway
- 1993 – 94 Sally Kelly
- 1994 – 95 Zona Parker
- 1995 – 96 Marla Boone
- 1996 – 97 Beth Dowdy
- 1997 – 98 Barbara Schlachter
- 1998 – 99 Susan Williams
- 1999 – 00 Jean Bateman
- 2000 – 01 Jana Dransfield
- 2001 – 02 Leslie Melson
- 2002 – 03 Linda Quisenberry
- 2003 – 04 Janet Quisenberry
- 2004 – 05 Cindy Harding
- 2005 – 06 Leslie Melson
- 2006 – 07 Phyllis Riggins
- 2007 – 08 Jill McClung
- 2008 – 09 Christy Barnes
- 2009 – 10 Connie O’Neill
- 2010 – 11 Janet Finegold
- 2011 – 12 Carol Nelson
- 2012 – 13 Laura Rohrman
- 2013 – 14 Lisa Reid
- 2014 – 15 Kira Gruber
- 2015 – 16 Laura Yancey
Originally compiled by Julie C. Miller – February 2001. Updated and edited by Tanya Foster – February 2012