HATTIESBURG - Half
a century after the first edition of The University of Southern
Mississippi's Dixie Darlings graced the football gridiron, members
of the 1954 precision dance group plan an encore performance when
they return this weekend for
homecoming at the university. And though some years
may separate the 1954 squad and their current counterparts, 25 of
the original 32 dancers are ready to show they've still got what
it takes to be a Dixie Darling.
"I can't believe 50 years went by this quick,"
said Nancy Powell of Hattiesburg, who said being a Dixie Darling
was "a lot of fun but really hard work."
In 1954, university band director Dr. Raymond Mannoni
founder wanted to start a drill team of young women to perform with
the Southern Miss band. He wanted a group patterned after the Kilgore
(Texas Community College) Rangerettes. Mannoni had seen the Rangerettes
perform at the Senior Bowl game in Mobile in January 1954 and contacted
one of its members, Joyce Scimeca (now Joyce Scimeca McHenry), in
June of that year and asked her to come to Southern Miss (then known
as Mississippi Southern College) to audition. He then introduced
Scimeca to MSC president Dr. Robert C. Cook, who offered her a full
scholarship after their meeting, and the dance team was established.
"The girls were chosen by Dr. Mannoni partly
from their performances in high school (as dancers or cheerleaders),"
said McHenry, a Covington, La., resident who was instrumental in
helping Mannoni begin the program and choreograph dance routines.
"When we began, there were 16 regular (dancers)
and two alternates. By year's end, that number had doubled."
After the first week of practice and being called the "Dixie
Maids," Mannoni decided he did not like that particular title,
so he called everyone together to make a decision. After several
suggestions, he narrowed it down to two names: the "Dixie Dancers"
or the "Dixie Darlings."
"Barbara Rhodes and I wanted the name to be 'Dixie
Darlings,'" Scimeca said. "I don't remember if he allowed
us to vote on one of the two names or if he decided himself, but
'Dixie Darlings' was chosen and we were ready to perform for the
first time at the MSC-Alabama game at Montgomery in September 1954."
The original Dixie Darling costume was a black velvet
top and shorts. The top had a gold braid over a scooped neckline,
and the shorts had a gold tassel on each side. The dancers wore
white boots with black fringe, and donned white gloves. The media
often referred them as the "World-famous Dixie Darlings."
Powell said the demanding practice schedule for the
Dixie Darlings was due to Mannoni's desire to have a top-notch halftime
performance. "He was a real perfectionist," said Powell,
who was a cheerleader in high school and had received dance lessons.
And just because a Dixie Darling had performed at
one game or event was no guarantee they would be in the starting
lineup the next time, Powell said, evidence of Mannoni's desire
for quality performances. "We had to try out before each game,"
Powell said, "because there was always at least a couple of
alternates or more (to compete against), so you would have to worry
The original Dixie Darlings comprised Ann Bond Beasley
of Greenville; Ann Briggs McCormick (deceased); Carolyn Cochran
McGinnis of Houston, Texas; Kay Crenshaw McCrary of Laurel; Joyce
Dawson Trenton (deceased); Betty Farnham Cotten of Hattiesburg;
Jean Freeman Webb of New Orleans; Pat Harris Millican of St. Simons
Island, Ga.; Jeanel Hewes Pettey of Gulfport; Mary Lou Key McClammy
(deceased); Betty King Self of Richardson, Texas; Ann Lynch Boyer
of Jacksonville Beach, Fla.; Lady Dell Mechatto Martin of Merritt
Island, Fla.; Miriam Middleton Moyer of Brookhaven; Ann Miller Jordan
of New Orleans; Fredde Mincher Taylor of Long Beach; Mary Brown
Nowell Kaiser of Natchez; Jo Ellen Pirtle Clark of Ruston, La.;
Nancy Powell Bryant of Hattiesburg; Barbara Rhodes Dearman of Jackson;
Joyce Scimeca McHenry of Covington, La.; Mary Ann Smith Jasper of
Wesson; Sue Smylie Thompson of Meridian; and Patsy Stegall Richardson
Ann Larman and Dee Ervine coordinate the Dixie Darling
Alumni Association and have spent several months planning for the
golden anniversary of the group's founding. The 1954 group will
be honored at halftime of the Southern Miss-East Carolina game,
joining hundreds of other former and current Dixie Darlings for
an on-field performance during halftime. The game is set for a 6
On Friday, Oct. 22, members of the 1954 Dixie Darlings
will have a luncheon at the Southern Miss M-Club meeting room and
then a social on Friday night. On Saturday prior to the game, the
group will march in the Southern Miss homecoming parade, which begins
at 2 p.m., and then attend a special reunion tailgate party arranged
for the group.
"We started (contacting former Dixie Darlings)
in February of this year," Ervine said. "We told them,
'If you're ever going to come back (for a reunion), this is the
Ervine said that Dixie Darling reunions are a wonderful
time for women who participated to have a "fantasy weekend
to get together with a group of people who share a love for dance
and performing and having a really great time."
In addition to communicating with former Dixie Darlings
about events and other news, Ervine, Larman and other active alumni
of the group perform community service, including fund raising for
breast cancer research.
Ervine said the Dixie Darlings' popularity extended
well beyond the Southern Miss campus. For years, the group was regularly
invited to perform at the Blue-Gray game, the Senior Bowl, the Sugar
Bowl and in the Miss America parade. Once, while Ervine was a Dixie
Darling in the early 1960s, the group performed at an all-star football
game at Soldier Field in Chicago. "I can remember we would
get off the bus and immediately be asked for autographs," Ervine
said. "We got a lot of national attention."
Powell and her fellow Dixie Darlings have fond memories
of their days as members of the "World-famous Dixie Darlings"
50 years later. "We had a good time, and got a lot of attention
from the boys, and that was a whole lot of fun, too," she said,
laughing. "It was an honor to be a Dixie Darling."
Scimeca McHenry will revive her role as leader of
the group, helping her 1954 colleagues practice their old dance
routines for their big day. "I told (fellow Dixie Darling)
Miriam (Moyer Middleton), 'Isn't it wild that 50 years later we're
still preparing to do these same dances (for the reunion)?'"
Scimeca said. "I never dreamed then (1954) that the Dixie Darlings
would still be going strong and be so popular. It's nice to be honored
for something you did 50 years ago."
Sarah Rouse, 18, of Hattiesburg is a Southern Miss
journalism-public relations major and a first-year Dixie Darling.
"It's really big that we've been going on this long and still
have the tradition of performing the same moves," she said.
"I'm excited about being a member; it's exciting to be there
on the field in front of huge crowds."
For the homecoming event, Rouse said the 1954 members
are ready to show off their talents. "They've been practicing
with us and they really know their stuff," she said.
For more information about the reunion, contact Southern
Miss Bands at (601) 266-4990 or Dee Ervine at (228) 452-3345.