Former TJ high school Swingsters, cheerleaders to march at Mardi Gras
Published 6:57 pm Friday, December 9, 2016
Mardi Gras may be months away but it’s just enough time for former drill team members to get together and practice for the big event.
Heather Meaux is trying to get the word out — the Thomas Jefferson High School Swingsters drill team will perform in the Feb. 25 Mardi Gras parade in downtown Port Arthur. Word of mouth and social media has helped bring together some of the former members who high kicked it through pep rally’s and Friday night games but there are still some ladies that need to be reached.
“We are calling all Swingsters,” Meaux said while visiting with five other alumni from different eras.
A meeting is set for 10 a.m. Saturday at Debbie’s Dance and practice will begin on Jan. 21.
Meaux, a 2001 graduate, sat down with ellow Swingsters Erna Jones, class of 1994, Cyndi Puckett Thomas, class of 1975, Carrie Queen, class of 2001, Anne Boutte, class of 1965 and the organization’s first captain and Karen Keith LeBouef, class of 1981 and a former sponsor.
Yearbooks, newspaper clippings, photographs and the signature yellow duffle bag were brought out as the women reminisced.
Boutte, of Port Arthur, remembers Band Director John Badgett and the song “Hey, Look Me Over.”
“This was our signature high kick routine,” Boutte said.
Some things changed and others stayed the same.
Makeup was one that evolved. In earlier days there was red lipstick and later there was the requirement of blue eye shadow along with the lipstick in order to be seen from across the field. The style of the uniform changed a bit as well; some eras wore gloves while others wore gloves while in the stands.
Later groups of Swingsters worked alongside Band Director Herb Germer who demanded excellence from the band as well as auxiliary members such as the Swingsters, twirlers and flag corps.
Meaux and Queen remember eliminations where if one’s kicks and performance weren’t up to par they’d be cut from the upcoming Friday night performance.
And while one era had “Hey, Look Me Over,” other groups had different songs.
“The Horse” — an upbeat instrumental song by Cliff Nobles and Company from 1968, was adopted by marching bands across the U.S. and was performed for decades by TJ Band.
“I also remember performing to Barbie Girl when we played against Nederland and Port Neches-Groves,” Meaux said.
Boutte explained the Swingsters were patterned after the Kilgore Rangerette’s Swingsters, an elite performance group within the Rangerettes.
A lot went into the picture perfect performances. Practice alongside the band, followed by practice among just Swingsters and often the girls would head to a fellow Swingsters home to practice even more.
Looking back to the time under the lights, each woman held a special memory.
For Jones, her kicks were higher and smile wider in order to impress her sponsor, LeBouef.
Boutte remembered being a bit nervous until she hit the field while Thomas recalled the adrenaline rush of being in front of the crowd.
“It made me feel special,” Queen said of strutting onto the field amid cheers from the fans.
The Swingster alumni will march to the Thomas Jefferson Fight Song and The Horse, a fan favorite. Those not able to march will be able to ride a float, Meaux said.
For more information about participating, email TJSwingsters@gmail.com There is also a Facebook group, Thomas Jefferson HS Swingsters Drill Team-Port Arthur.
In addition to the Swingster’s performance at Mardi Gras 2017, the TJ Cheerleaders will also get together as well.
All former cheerleaders for freshman, junior varsity and/or varsity can email TJCheerAlumni@aol.com to participate. For more information there is also a Facebook page, Thomas Jefferson High School Cheerleaders-Port Arthur.
This will be the first time both groups have taken part in the Mardi Gras parade.