(Top) South Houston High's 'Jannettes drill team hits the field at Memorial Stadium for a performance in the fall of 1967. (Bottom) Two dozen current 'Jannettes pose after practice with drill alums Georgjean Walker Nixon, Libby Powers Johnson and Jackie Calhoun Williams.
Georgjean Walker was risking a demerit, but she didn’t care.
A junior on the newly established drill team at South Houston High School, Walker stood at attention in the end zone of a stadium in Beaumont waiting to make her debut as a ’Jannette, the squad’s newly minted name, derived from the school’s Trojan mascot.
In silent formation were nearly 100 girls – and nearly 200 shaking knees. Someone on the field walked by, looked at Walker and said, “Y’all look scared to death.”
Walker couldn’t hold back.
“That’s because we are!” she yelled.
The date was Sept. 9, 1966. In their debut that night, the ’Jannettes certainly performed no worse than the Trojan football team, which had to rally for an 8-8 tie against Beaumont South Park.
Now, 50 years later, the ’Jannettes are still on the march – and in various vintages. To mark the drill team’s golden anniversary, about 150 former drill members are preparing to join the school’s current dance troupe in a joint performance at halftime of the Trojans’ home game against Galena Park on Saturday (Sept. 3). Kickoff is 6 p.m.
Many of the participants were members of the original ’Jannettes who performed for the first time in the fall of 1966.
“The Class of 1967 and 1968 have always been about supporting the school,” says Libby Powers Johnson, a junior on the 1966 squad. “Our alumni have always been there for South Houston. We saw this as just one more thing we can do for our school.”
A year ago, Johnson contacted ’Jannettes sponsor Saranya Taylor about putting together an alumni squad for a 50th anniversary performance. Taylor approved the idea, a Facebook page was established and former ’Jannettes, many from last year’s squad, jumped at the chance to participate.
Many of the alumni ’Jannettes plan to return in May to participate in the drill team’s annual spring show – with proceeds going to meet the squad’s financial needs.
In 1965, the Pasadena ISD approved plans to establishing full-size drill teams at the three district high schools then in existence – South Houston, Pasadena and Sam Rayburn. Girls interested in performing spent the spring semester of 1966 in training in preparation for May tryouts.
All three drill teams made their debut that fall. Pasadena’s Eagle Escort, South Houston’s ’Jannettes and Sam Rayburn’s Tex-Anns immediately became local traditions. At South Houston, the ’Jannettes replaced the Spartaniers, a pom-pom waving pep squad established shortly after the school opened in 1957.
Jackie Calhoun was a senior on the first ’Jannettes squad and served as a social officer. For her, the drill team was established just in time. Another year and she would have missed it.
“I wanted our school to have a drill team really bad,” says Calhoun, now Jackie Calhoun Williams. “I had two friends who went to Bellaire and Spring Branch -- and they had drills teams at their school. When it was announced, I said, ‘Yes! Sign me up.’”
Memories of the ’Jannettes early years are almost endless. Many revolved about the Trojans’ next-to-last game that first season, a 0-0 tie against Baytown played in quagmire conditions in Baytown.
Walker, who married Mike Nixon, a halfback on the Trojans football team, recalls vividly the pea-soup fog – and, most of all, the mud.
“There was so much mud -- and we happened to be using canes that night in our routine,” Nixon says. “Well, if you leaned on your cane too much, it went right down into the mud. A couple of girls got their canes stuck. They couldn’t get them out!”
Recalls Williams: “My boot got stuck in the mud. I tried to pull it out, but my foot came right out of my boot!”
The routine became an exercise in comic relief, Nixon recalls.
“When we did our high kick, the mud went flying everywhere,” she says. “It was really a lot of fun.”
The ’Jannettes hit the big time, in a sense, the following year when they performed at halftime of an AFL game between the Houston Oilers and Oakland Raiders in Rice Stadium. The contest, played in early December, started in 70-degree weather.
“But then the wind started blowing,” Johnson recalls, “and when we went out to perform it was down to 31. And all we had with us were out rain coats. That was it!”
So much of what the alumni ’Jannettes thought were trials and tribulations at the time, they say, are now part of their happy recollections of being a teenager. Those were the days when the drill team and the band performed together, when several members of the drill team even performed with batons.
Nixon remembers dancing to “Georgy Girl,” one of the most popular tunes of 1967. The split formation caused different sections of the band to play out of sync.
“”It was like half the band was about a half-beat behind,” Nixon says. “I just starting singing the song in my head – and kept going!”
Among the earliest ’Jannettes, memories of the drill team’s first director, Annetta Schomber, remain especially vivid. A former Kilgore Rangerette, Schomber kept order with a firm hand.
“Occasionally, one of the girls would forget to take something to the game -- and that was just something you didn’t do,” Johnson says.
“There were no cell phones in those day, but normally a girl would find a way to call her mom. I remember all those times somebody’s mom would pull up next to the bus -- and whatever it was that got left behind would get passed right through the window so Schomber wouldn’t find out. You did not want to endure the wrath of Schomber!”
For Williams, the experience of being a ’Jannette has never really faded. Her daughter, Holly Williams, performed for Dobie’s Lariaettes drill squad. Holly graduated in 1993 and went on to perform for the Kilgore Rangerettes.
Now it’s mom’s turn again. But the alumni ’Jannettes will be the first to admit that they prefer the good old days of drill --, muddy boots and all.
“We never had to worry about leaps or aerials,” Williams says. “Things were much simpler then.”
Libby Powers Johnson, South Houston Class of 1968, rehearses at the school with current members of the 'Jannettes.
Jackie Calhoun Williams, a senior on the first 'Jannettes squad in 1966-67, gets into the swing of the routine.
'Jannettes join in the intensity of a Trojans football game in the fall of 1966.
Officers for the first 'Jannettes dance squad were (top) Libby Wood, Marie Pena, Jackie Mallernee, Katy Daniel and Jackie Calhoun (also pictured above); and (bottom) Suzie Covington, Sharon Wakefield, Madeline Cobb and Donna Grant.