Time has imposed its usual changes, but they’re still the same girls — the girls who smiled at the crowd, the girls whose silver batons flashed in the reflection of the stadium’s lights.
The girls the announcer introduced as the LSU Tigerettes when they performed at halftimes with the LSU Tiger Marching Band.
They’ll be on the field again Saturday night when the annual LSU Tiger Band Alumni reunion culminates in the halftime show at the LSU-Eastern Michigan University game in Tiger Stadium.
And this year is special, because the baton-twirling team is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
It doesn’t matter that the Tigerettes are no longer a part of the Tiger Band — they were dissolved in 1985 in favor of a now-defunct rifle corps. But close to 50 of them have been rehearsing a special routine for a featured halftime performance in this milestone celebration.
“We’re older, and some of us think about what we look like marching across that field,” says Claudia Henegan Adley, a Tigerette from 1968-71. “But, you know, this isn’t about how old we are or the fact that we can’t wear that little outfit anymore. It’s about everyone getting on that field and knowing what it feels like to march in Tiger Stadium again. There’s nothing like it.”
Anniversary activities are being coordinated by Doren Scimeca Harrell, Lori Sumerford Newsom and Susan Watson Jullens, all of whom twirled with the team in the early 1980s. They’ve also maintained their close friendship and have attended almost all Tiger Band alumni events since the reunion weekend was established in 1987.
The Tigerettes’ history begins with legendary band director William F. Swor, who introduced them as the Twirling Corps in 1965. The line was made up of 16 twirlers with three feature twirlers out front. The line performed a routine while the feature twirlers each executed their own moves.
“The earlier Tigerettes talk about Bill Swor, how he said they weren’t supposed to be dancing like Las Vegas showgirls,” Harrell says. “They were supposed to perform with dignity.”
And one of the things on which Swor insisted was big baton moves that would flash in the stadium lights.
“They called it the ‘Swor Twirl,’” Sumerford says. “They would twirl the baton with two hands, making big circles. Swor wanted a lot of flash with the band, and the Swor Twirl did that.”
The Twirling Corps’ name was changed to the Tigerettes a few years later and shared the field with the Golden Girls. But the Tigerettes didn’t differentiate themselves from the band, and the Golden Girls still maintain that tradition.
“We were members of the band, and we didn’t consider ourselves any more important than any other section of the band,” Adley says. “I played clarinet, and I would play in the concert band after football season. So, I was part of the Tiger Band year-around.”
Though high school bands traditionally required their majorettes to play instruments, such wasn’t the case with the Tiger Band.
“I was a twirler, but I danced in my high school’s dance line because I didn’t play an instrument,” Jullens says. “I knew I wanted to be a Tigerette, and I learned the routine and tried out when I came to LSU.”
The Tigerettes were required to try out each year.
“We loved it, so we kept coming back every year,” Harrell says.
It also was during Swor’s tenure that the Tiger Band won its All-American College TV Band title in 1970.
“Mr. Swor would have us sing the parts while marching in rehearsal if the band wasn’t playing,” Adley says. “The Tigerettes weren’t playing instruments, but we’d pick a part and sing it. And we didn’t need yardlines and hash marks. Mr. Swor made us march blindfolded, and our steps were so precise, that we could perform our show in a parking lot without yardlines.”
Adley remembers performing on Jan. 1, 1971, at the Orange Bowl, then flying to San Francisco the next day to perform an entirely different halftime show for the All-American competition.
“We were so excited, but again, we did it as part of the band,” she says.
Scarlet Scarle Hebert, who started as a feature twirler in 1964 before the Twirling Corps was formed, also will perform, along with original 1965 corps members Candace Thompson Peebles, Beth Snider Reames, Mary Baker Fleniken and Dianne Hardee Suggs.
“We had one rehearsal in Baton Rouge and Skyped it to those who couldn’t attend,” Harrell says. “We’ve also made some YouTube videos of the routine, so they can tune in and watch, and we’ll have another rehearsal in Lake Charles.”
The reunion group will pair a specially designed shirt with black shorts, and if some of the ladies can’t perform every move, it doesn’t matter.
“It’s about being there,” Adley says “It’s about getting out there and remembering what it was like and experiencing it again.”