Drill Team and Life

It is interesting how formative high school years can be. Of course, there was both great and challenging times, but looking back now, it is very evident that those years were important in my development and my preparation for life.

The lessons learned become more clear—especially the three years I spent in our high school drill team (10th through 12th grades). Just for clarification purposes, since “drill team” might mean different things to different people, here is a description of what we did at our high school. 

When I was a member, the drill team was very active. There were no flags or batons involved. We marched behind the band in numerous parades performing our own choreographed military style routines created to fit with the songs they played. Also, we performed in football and basketball game halftime shows. In the spring, we would put on our own show that involved lots of routines set to popular music. 

Tryouts for drill team were always nerve-wracking times as only some girls were chosen. Typically, there were about 40 to 50 girls on the drill team for a particular year. Then an additional five or so girls volunteered to be managers, basically there to help us from the sidelines. 

So, looking back, what did I learn? Well, lots. But, I will highlight just five here.

Nothing replaces good old fashioned hard work. It took endless hours and plenty of dedication to be on our drill team. It was required that we got up early and often spent time after school practicing routines that many times we performed publicly only once. 

There was no tolerance for bad grades or poor citizenship. Everyone had to keep their school work at a certain standard in order to participate. Very few girls let that slip. 

The mental and physical exertion required was intense at times. Our traditional formal uniform was made of black velvet and gold satin. It was so hot we used to wear guards to somewhat try and hide the huge sweat stains that appeared under our arms! 

I still have scars on both of my heels from repeated bleeding blisters after having to march in parades for miles in black heeled boots. Others suffered from heat exhaustion and other numerous physical ailments. 

Then, there was the need to perform. Remembering where to put those arms and legs and head movements at just the right time to the music. 

Judges would deduct points if anyone on the team had a stray hair out of place or who was not smiling during parade competitions. So, despite the exhausting miles we marched with all the aches and pains, we all grinned with our pearly whites through bright red lipstick and endured tightly bobby-pinned hair buns. It was all about projecting showmanship. 

To attain something significant, you have to work hard and put your time in. While this might be frustrating at times because you want to be at a particular level sooner, remaining disciplined and devoted allows you to gain irreplaceable lessons. Lessons that you can draw from later. The right people will notice your devotion, your allegiance, and your efforts. And, your smile through it all.

Leadership reveals itself in everything you do. Our five drill team leaders were elected by and from within the team: two Lieutenants, two Co-Captains, and one Captain. Humbly, I was chosen my second year as a Lieutenant and my senior year as the Captain of the drill team. 

Leading a group of over fifty girls—my peers, was challenging to say the least. It was a new and big responsibility for a freshly turned seventeen year old. 

We had an absolutely beloved physical education teacher who was our drill team advisor. The girls affectionally called her ZOT, since her real name was just too complicated to say or spell! 

Setting the tone for the upcoming year was important, so every summer we would have a devoted summer school session. It would help introduce the discipline needed for newly selected members and prepare everyone for our upcoming parade season. 

Normally, ZOT was there to help set the direction of the team, but the year I was elected Captain, she was out on a maternity leave for the summer session. So, we had a substitute who was nice, but basically left everything up to us. That actually turned out to be extremely helpful in building my own confidence (through fire) and I was able to begin the long journey of developing my own leadership style.  

I started to learn how to communicate with a large group of people. When to engage in fun, and when to be serious. How to make tough calls while maintaining respect. Effectively working through creative endeavors hand-in-hand with others on my team. And, I tried my best to build confidence and offer encouragement to those that struggled. 

Leading teams of individuals is not always an easy task. Garner ways to instill dedication and accomplish objectives through influence, honestly, and integrity. By being appreciative and respectful of others. Show yourself as trustworthy, while being able to admit your mistakes and imperfections. 

Not everyone will like you. Sometimes drill team members were looked down upon by certain groups in our high school because we were viewed as just cheerleader wannabes. They referred to us as the “Drill Team Dogs.” We weren’t in the cool kids crowd. 

It was interesting, because a few former drill teamer’s that did go on to be on the cheer squads usually stayed very supportive of the friends they made on the drill team. Often they came to our parades and performances. I think they realized that there really was something more accepting and less socially competitive about us “dogs.” And, heaven knows being socially accepted during those self esteem building years could make a big difference.

I’m sure I had some haters…haha! But honestly, it is amazing how many past drill team members have stayed connected to either a few or with a lot of friends made during those formative years in high school. 

There will always be naysayers and people who think they are superior to you. They are everywhere in life—co-workers, neighbors, even family members and friends. People have egos, some bigger than others. Rest assured that you must tolerate criticism and judgment at times with some people’s need to let you know they believe they are better than you. The key is not letting those folks bring you down. Not everyone will like you.

Never let fun disappear. There were definitely serious times necessary as we worked hard on the team, however, rarely did our fun disappear totally. Of course, when fifty high school girls spend so much time together, there was bound to be some disagreements. I’m sure that the years have erased the memory of a lot of the typical conflict, but really, I do believe our team got along quite well. 

There were so many great memories, it almost seemed like being fun-loving was a pre-requisite to success with our group. We certainly knew how to engage playfulness. So, I can’t help but list a few details here! Those of you who are fellow past EDHS drill teamer’s will remember:

-The night after tryouts, when we would “kidnap” the new members right from their beds in the middle of the night and take them to a central location for some public shenanigans in their pajamas. 

-Summer camp at UC, Santa Barbara. The pranks pulled on each other while staying in the dorms. Ahem, I won’t mention the short sheeted beds, the plastic wrap across the toilet seats, and the vaseline in MY hair that wouldn’t wash out for days. The incriminating photographs snapped, practicing in the hallways, and staying up too late giggling about who really remembers what.

-Early morning practices with curlers in our hair covered with bandanas. Counter marching through the band when we rehearsed together and our hearts beating just a little faster as we passed by certain cute boys. Picking the latest pop songs and creating and practicing routines both at school and on the streets in front of our houses. 

-Some of the extra trips we took. Like the long bus trip up to Las Vegas to march in a parade after sleeping the night before on the gym floor of a local high school. And, seeing our first “real” prostitute as we piled on top of each other on one side of the bus to gawk through the window at her! When we marched through the streets of Disneyland and performed on one of their stages. Our visit to the original Hollywood Squares television show in L.A. I was picked out of the crowd to go meet all the stars. I was so nervous, I could barely speak!

-Sleepovers at a person’s home. Yes, that would be fifty high school girls chatting, giggling, eating, rehearsing, and eventually sleeping on every open square inch of the house. Of course, going to sleep too early was detrimental. It meant you took your chances of being a victim of a frozen bra or hand dipped into a bowl of warm water. 

-Endless laughing, crying, talking, hugging, consoling, boy-talk, and making lifelong friendships. We shared so many delightful times together. Three years of hard work and hilarity!

True there are appropriate times to be pensive and focused. However, balance is so necessary. Having a healthy equality between seriousness and merrymaking is crucial for life. So, live and seek out excuses to inject zest into your daily routine.

Recognize and honor important periods of your life. I was so proud to have stood in front of that group of girls. That entire experience is one that has meant so much to me over my whole life. Seeing each person work so hard and be so dedicated to a common purpose is something incredibly special. I really believe that those experiences shaped my eventual choices in vocation, volunteer work, and the pursuit of my passions.

About 25 years after graduating from high school, I planned a drill team reunion. It took a while to get back in touch with almost everyone who was a member over those three years. Thankfully, many girls—then women, came to re-connect with each other and catch up on how life was progressing. 

It was interesting to be part of a group of friends that were aging and experiencing life’s normal process together. For example, dealing with aging parents and their eventual loss, having children and watching them form their own childhood memories before graduating and stepping out into life, marriages and divorces, work and careers, and of course, growing older ourselves.

Armed with adult maturity and the recognition of how unique and distinct those times were, the evening was unforgettable for me and I suspect several others. Even ZOT showed up! What a thrill it must have been for her to see what a positive influence she had on such a large number of ‘ladies’…as she always called us.

But, mostly the joy from that evening came from reminiscing about our shared drill team adventures from so many years ago. Since everyone remembered things from their own perspective, it was fun to hear the stories told, all slightly different, and several that had been forgotten and were regained.

When we were sharing those high school years, it was impossible to imagine life happening without those close to us. In other words, it felt like we would be best of friends forever. As we grew up, we discovered, just as others that have gone through this stage in life before us, that people continued on with their own lives and often moved away. 

We eventually realized that it doesn’t mean we couldn’t still have wonderful friendships with those we shared so much with, but instead the ways in which we interacted changed. Technology such as social media, email, and the good old telephone allowed us to remain connected. 

Relationships may come and go. But, no one can take away those important periods in your life. Acknowledge, appreciate and cherish them.

Thank you for indulging me through this visit into my past! I wouldn’t trade those valued friendships and life preparing years for anything.

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