Before there were Eagle Elite, Gold Dusters, Silver Spurs, Sapphires or Celebrities, there were the Dixie Dolls, Mansfield’s original drill team. And there are former Dixie Dolls scattered across Mansfield who still feel the urge to break into high kicks when they hear “Candyman,” “Kung Fu Fighting” or “Smoke on the Water” come on the radio.
In 1972, unless they were athletes, girls at Mansfield High School didn’t have a chance to be leaders, said Dixie Dibley, the team’s first sponsor. So Principal James Icenhower asked 21-year-old Dibley to start a drill team, a relatively new concept in the area at the time, even though she had no drill team experience.
“I had a lot of dance experience,” said Dibley, now 64, who was teaching French, geography and sponsoring the cheerleaders. “When you’re young, you think you can do anything.”
Dibley did have a sorority sister who had been an Apache Belle at Tyler Junior College who she recruited to teach the girls a routine and judge the tryouts. Getting to girls to audition wasn’t difficult, said Vicky Latimer Box, who was on the team the first two years.
“It seemed like everybody was trying out,” Box said. “I had never seen a drill team before.”
And, like a lot of the Dixie Dolls, she had no dance experience.
“They had practice while I was in PE,” remembered Vicki Bowlin Collins, who was a Dixie Doll from 1975-78. “I would watch them and go home and practice in my front yard.”
The girls learned quickly, though.
“The first year at camp we didn’t know anything,” Box said. “We did a military routine to ‘California Dreamin’. The Mesquite girls intimidated us. They were all tall and blond and they made fun of us.
“The next year we incorporated all of the moves back in and went back to the same camp and beat Mesquite,” she said.
The Dixie Dolls practiced on the stage in the gym, but had to move into the library to be able to stretch into their full long line. The girls practiced before and after school and came in a couple of times during the summer, Dibley said.
Drill teams have changed a lot.
“We don’t really have an off-season,” said Lisa Hazelwood, who has been the sponsor of Mansfield High’s Gold Dusters for the past nine years. “We practice from 3-5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, then perform at the games on Fridays. Officers have a week of camp in June, the third week of July is camp (for the whole team) then in August we practice for four hours every day.
“We encourage them to take outside dance classes,” she said, “and officers have to take outside dance classes for at least six months before they try out.”
The Gold Dusters also perform at pep rallies, basketball games, community events, competitions, camps and have a spring show. The Dixie Dolls also performed at football games, community events and even at the Kowbell Rodeo.
“They were kicking up that dirt in those white boots,” Dibley said.
Practice times aren’t the only thing that has changed. When Dibley started the Dixie Dolls, a uniform cost $30, white go-go boots from Sears ran $13-$15, tights were $3 and gloves were $3. A uniform for pep rallies was added because the gold performance uniform was “too short to wear to school,” Dibley said.
Today’s Gold Dusters pay $1,000 for accessories, hats, boots, pompoms and a body suit, plus the cost of camps, Hazelwood said. The cost does not include the uniforms, which belong to the school district, she said.
The original Dixie Dolls had 22 members -- out of 32 who tried out -- and grew to 28 by 1975, when Dibley left the team to go back to school to get her master’s degree. Today’s Gold Dusters have 29 members, Hazelwood said. The number of girls on the team is still small, even though the high school has expanded dramatically, because there are four more high schools -- and dance teams -- in the school district now, she pointed out.
In 1991, Mansfield High School changed the Dixie Dolls to the Gold Dusters because it was “more politically correct,” Hazelwood said. “As far as I know they were trying to get away from that Southern Confederate thing.”
The members of the original team came up with the Dixie Dolls, Dibley remembers, choosing it over the Bengal Belles, Taffy Tigers, Klassy Kats, Bengal Babes and Golden Girls. The name came from the fact that the band played the school fight song, “Dixie,” after every touchdown, she said.
Debi Wells Choate, who was a Dixie Doll from 1972-1974, and Box remember it differently.
“From our perspective, it was named after her,” Choate said. “We named the team after her because that’s who we were, we were Dixie’s Dolls.”
After Dibley got her master’s degree, she returned to Mansfield as a teacher and counselor, taught in the Arlington district for six years, was a counselor at Donna Shepard Intermediate School before retiring in 2013. Her two children graduated from Mansfield High School, and son Bryan is now a coach and English teacher at Legacy High School.
Dibley and her husband, Larry, live in Rendon. Dibley hasn’t seen a drill team perform in several years, but she still flashes back to the routines when she hears one of the Dixie Dolls’ songs.
“What it was, was an opportunity for girls to develop self-confidence, leadership and good character,” Dibley said. “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”