Mizzou Golden Girls Inducted into Hall of Fame
Tue, 11/07/2023 - 12:39pm admin
Earlier this year, alongside 20 other inductees including notables such as Bret Saberhagen (Kansas City Royals pitcher), Tyler Hansbrough (Poplar Bluff High School/University of North Carolina basketball star), and Sean Weatherspoon (University of Missouri, all-American linebacker), the Mizzou Golden Girls Program was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
Anyone who has ever been to a college football game in Columbia, or seen Marching Mizzou on TV (as in last year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade) is familiar with Mizzou’s dance team, the Golden Girls. And, yes, there is another Willow Springs connection, but first, a little history.
This past weekend, I drove to Columbia for Mizzou’s 112st annual homecoming football game. For those who don’t know, the tradition of “homecoming” games, which is now commonplace at schools across the nation, originated at the University of Missouri in 1911. More information about this history is available at mutigers.com.
The sold-out Memorial Stadium, full of gold-clad fans, took me back in time to my first Mizzou game in 1962, when the Tigers beat Colorado 57-0 and Johnny Roland scored five touchdowns. This predated the Golden Girl era, but the featured twirler Warren Bass, an African-American male, was the highlight of the on-field half-time show. Some reports say he could toss his baton 100-feet in the air. All I can say, it went high and he was an impressive showman.
The origins of the Golden Girls began in 1957 when the band director added baton twirlers as part of Marching Mizzou. As I mentioned in an earlier column, the transition to the Golden Girls era began in 1964 when Sandy Davidson (WSHS, 1964) auditioned and earned a spot on the twirling team.
In her tryout, Sandy wore a silver-sequined leotard she had worn at WSHS. Incidentally, because she had a flaming baton routine in her repertoire, she originally got the outfit because it was fire retardant. Impressed with her tryout costume, the band director ordered gold-sequined versions for the entire squad, which soon became popularly known, and later officially known, as the Golden Girls. And Sandy’s flame-retardant outfit from her WSHS days was the prototype for the Golden Girl uniforms.
Eventually, the twirlers transitioned from batons to pompoms and became a dance team. The mutigers.com website notes: “The group first danced in 1966, when then-director Dr. Alex Pickard had the girls throw down their batons and do the ‘Charleston.’ [I’m pretty sure I was there.] In 1970, the twirling line officially became the gold-sequined, high-kicking dance line it is today.”
And 1970 is significant for another reason. Future Golden Girl Debbie Davidson graduated from WSHS. Although, I remembered her from school days in Willow, I wasn’t sure she would remember me, but when I contacted her, she refreshed my recollection that I had given her a ride from Columbia to Willow Springs when I was in law school.
Debbie, with unselfish modesty, suggested this article should focus on the Golden Girls and the Hall of Fame induction and not her. Nevertheless, one doesn’t become a Golden Girl without qualifications. Debbie had been the featured twirler for the Bruin Marching Band since junior high and was well-positioned to audition for the team.
Since Debbie had been twirling since grade school, I asked her how the Golden Girls’ transition to a dance team affected her decision to join the team. She said, “Since I had been performing with the WSHS Bruin Band since seventh-grade I wanted to continue performing. I was aware the Golden Girls were transitioning to less twirling and more dancing, so I began incorporating dance into my twirling routines.”
I was curious about the nature of the tryouts and asked her about her experience. She said, “I contacted Marching Mizzou about trying out for the Golden Girls, and they sent me all the specific requirements. The first year I tried out was probably the most intimidating, as tryouts were held on the football field at the stadium—quite an experience for a smalltown girl.”
Hold the presses. As a matter of fact, Debbie was a member of the squad for four years. So, what did she mean by “The first year I tried out”? Debbie explained, “Yes, tryouts. We had to try out every year. Just because you were a Golden Girl one year did not mean you would be the next. I had four tryouts to be a Golden Girl for four years.”
The induction into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, in my view, confirms the athleticism involved in being a Golden Girl, and I queried her about the practice sessions. She says “The Golden Girls, along with all of Marching Mizzou, practiced the week before school started, all-day and even into the night. Those were long, hard days in the heat. After the semester started, we practiced four times per week, two and a half to three hours per practice. We had additional practices when needed, depending on the time between home games and new routines needed within that time.”
Debbie elaborated more on the Golden Girls’ shift from twirling to choreography. “As the transition from less twirling to more dancing continued, we put down batons and did routines with other props. I remember learning to twirl a lasso for one routine and using a bat and ball as a prop for a routine to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," as well as incorporating pompoms into routines.
Debbie remarked that new wardrobes came with the change in roles. “In addition to the transition of routines, uniforms also began to have changes. Hot pants were a popular fad in the '70's. In addition to our classic gold-sequined uniforms, we had a uniform consisting of gold lamé hot pants with a black long-sleeved bodysuit and gold lamé vest. We also had black fur coats with white fur trim so we would match while sitting in the stands and freezing during extremely cold games, and we switched from tennis shoes to the white boots they still wear today.”
The Golden Girls performed at all home football games and some away games, but Debbie says, “Thanks to the amazing football team, we went to both the Fiesta Bowl and Sun Bowl during my time as a Golden Girl.”
The Golden Girls entertained at non-football events such as the dedication of Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. But Debbie says, “My most cherished performance was when I had the honor of dancing with Bob Hope. He was in Columbia for the dedication of the Hearnes Center and entertained at the football game that afternoon.
“He addressed the crowd with some of his classic humor and then concluded by joining the Golden Girls for a soft shoe routine. What a memorable performance for me and for all the other Golden Girls at that time.”
Debbie also attended homecoming this year in a semi-official capacity and commented, “Each year Marching Mizzou alums are invited back to march at Homecoming in the alumni band. Returning as a Golden Girl alum is a most heartwarming experience. The comradery is amazing. Golden Girl alums are warmly welcomed back—Golden Girls for life!”
Debbie says, “I participated in many activities and received numerous awards and honors at Mizzou, but I must say that the most memorable of all were my experiences as a Golden Girl.”
The Golden Girls are official ambassadors for the University, and are now part of the Athletics Department as one of the Spirit Squads that includes the Cheer Squad and Truman the Tiger.
Under the headline “Golden Girl Tradition” on mutiger.com, a statement appears that defines their essence: “Being a member of the Golden Girls is a prestigious and honored position that takes dedication, pride, time and hard work.” Now, with the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame induction, they have finally received recognition as athletes.