The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

September 24, 2012

Greenville's Gridiron Greatness

Herald-Banner Staff

GREENVILLE — Friday or Saturday night football games, especially in Texas, can be expected to include certain traditions.

There will be a line of beautiful girls performing coordinated dance moves and high kicks at halftime.

One or both of the teams might try a potentially illegal trick play which resembles a fumble, but really isn’t.

And once each season the girls in the stands will wear huge flowers adorned with the home team’s colors, presented to them by their current beau.

Many people may not be aware that all of these gridiron rituals — drill teams, the fumblerooski and homecoming mums — likely originated at Greenville High School.

— For one, the Greenville High School Flaming Flashes are recognized by many as the world’s first drill team, created by the legendary Gussie Nell Davis.

While Davis may be better known as the creator of the Kilgore Rangerettes drill team, the concept actually began years earlier with the Flashes. Davis was hired as the instructor of physical education and as pep-squad director at Greenville High School in 1928.

While at the school, Davis is credited for creating the Flashes which, depending on which history of drill teams website is referenced, were considered the first “twirl and dance group,” the first “dancing pep squad,” or the first “dance and twirl organization that performed drills and did dance steps.”

In 1939, Davis was asked by B. E. Masters, president of Kilgore College, to “find a way to keep people in their seats at half-time” without using drums or bugles. In response, Davis organized the Rangerettes, a precision dance and drill team which performed for the first time in 1940. She directed the group until her retirement in 1979.

— Then there is the fumblerooski, which many football fans will remember from the 1984 Orange Bowl between the University of Nebraska and the University of Miami. In a fumblerooski, the center hikes the ball to the quarterback, who then leaves the ball on the turf. While most of the team starts moving to the right, another offensive player picks up the ball and runs to the left.

Legendary Lions Football coach Henry E. Frnka is credited with the first documented use of the fumblerooski, at Greenville High School during the 1933 Texas High School Championship. The practice was later outlawed in high school contests, the NCAA and the NFL, although variations on the concept are still occasionally attempted.

— The idea of whether the wearing of homecoming mums actually began in Greenville is open to debate, but it does make a certain amount of sense and is based on the origin of drill teams and the history of Greenville High School football.

The first recognized homecoming game, depending on sources, was held either at the University of Illinois in 1910 or the University of Missouri in 1911.

Although there is plenty of information on the Internet about the history of chrysanthemums and how the giving of homecoming mums is considered a Southern legacy, there are few details as to exactly how the tradition began.

In 2006, local florist Tubby Adkisson, who is now retired, said the legend in Greenville is that local mum-giving began sometime during the Frnka era of the 1930s, around the same time as Greenville High School was a Texas football powerhouse and Davis formed the Flaming Flashes.

“There was a flood on the market of white chrysanthemums,” Adkisson said. “To get rid of them, the florists in Greenville would give each Flash not a corsage, but a chrysanthemum. Apparently from that, somebody at the school thought that was a pretty good idea. The first mums were fresh, because there were no silk ones back then, with just a little stem and a bow on them.”

Davis possibly exported the idea of homecoming mums with her to Kilgore and the Rangerettes. Adkisson thinks the concept may have spread across the South from there.

“Of course, that’s just pure speculation,” Adkisson said.

These days, Rosie Sellers with Adkisson’s florist said the mums are always silk and usually surrounded by long flowing ribbons and an assortment of bangles and charms and occasionally a stuffed animal or other trinket in the middle.

The huge versions are proudly worn on a girl’s shoulder, although Adkisson’s also offers a smaller and less elaborate variety which can be worn on someone’s arm.

“We do a lot of these for the guys, because they don’t like to pin one on,” Sellers said.

Sellers has been preparing homecoming mums for Greenville and many other area schools since 1988, alongside Theresa Bourland, who has been creating them for 16 years.

Sellers can recall the days when the mums were bought and worn fresh.

“That was an experience,” Sellers said. “You worked all night, trying to keep them as fresh as possible.”

In addition to being more convenient and durable, Sellers said the silk mums often serve as memento of a treasured time of the recipient’s youth.

“A lot of girls will put them up on their walls, where they will stay for years, so they can remember the good times they had in high school,” Sellers said.