The year 1962 had its fair share of firsts. The first Walmart store opened its doors. The Rolling Stones made their debut. Johnny Carson became the host of The Tonight Show. And, if you were a teenage girl living in Memorial, you had the opportunity to audition for the inaugural class of Memorial High School’s drill team, the Markettes.
The scene looked something like what you might expect today for Houston Texans cheerleader tryouts, according to charter Markette Jerre Parsons Williams. Hundreds of girls showed up to audition for the director, Dot Josey.
“It was the biggest thing to have happened to us,” Williams said. “If you were chosen to be a Markette you were really hot stuff.”
In those days the Markettes were a traditional drill team. They marched, military style, alongside the band on the football field. In a prancing motion, the Markettes marched “eight to five,” meaning they took eight steps for every five yards on the field, keeping time with the music. Dressed in white turtlenecks, red skirts and cowboy hats, their goal was to march in perfect unison with their thighs parallel to the ground and toes pointed while twirling batons.
Precise military style wasn’t their only rigid standard. “Miss Josey weighed us every day,” said Williams. “If you were too heavy you didn’t perform.” Another charter Markette, Jean Holland Fonville, remembers being motivated to keep her grades up out of fear of being benched. “I hated showing Miss Josey my report card more than showing my parents,” she said.
During the ‘70s the Markettes added some props to their routines, marching with pompoms and tambourines. Melanie Boone Elliott, class of 1973, remembers twirling red and white umbrellas so they looked like peppermint candies moving across the field.
“Miss Josey was strict, and she wasn’t there to be our friend,” Elliott said. “She was there to get the best out of us.” During a halftime performance, Elliott noticed a mosquito on her arm. “I tried to blow out the side of my mouth to get rid of it because I sure didn’t turn my head or even think about swatting it. You didn’t do that with Miss Josey!” she said, laughing.
The feared and respected first director passed away unexpectedly in 1981. The following year, the Markettes established the Dot Josey Scholarship award. Each spring, this college scholarship is awarded to a graduating dancer in recognition of her hard work and contributions to the team.
Josey’s replacement, Kathy Wood, overhauled the entire program, replacing military marching with jazz and modern dance. “We learned some funky dances,” says Amy Olbrich Schmidt, class of 1983. “We transformed from a drill team into a dance team.”
The style change was initially met with resistance from the military-style Markettes. “Some of the seniors weren’t thrilled and it was a tough transition year,” said Schmidt, “but the team ended up being stronger because of it.”
Today, the Markettes are a competitive dance team of about 65 girls. They practice every day after school, as well as over the summer, to learn a range of dance styles, including contemporary, hip hop, jazz and lyrical. Current directors April Graham and Sharla Flores lead the Markettes in more than just halftime performance. “We’re a year-round dance team,” says Graham. After football season is over, the Markettes begin preparing for competitions and the annual Spring Show.
For current assistant major and high school senior Patricia Perrin, being a Markette is the perfect blend of team sports and artistic expression. “We are truly a team that works hard to win competitions, just like any other sport,” she said. And they are making friends in the process. “We spend so much time together , and I know we’re making lifelong friends,” said Perrin.
The costumes and dance styles have changed over the last 50 years, but the Markettes’ teamwork and dedication to school spirit remains the same. With a half century of experience behind them, Memorial’s dancers have made a name for themselves and Graham is optimistic about their continued success. “I want the girls to become even more technically proficient in dance competition,” she said. “We’re well on our way.”
Editor’s note: For information on the Dot Josey Scholarship fund or to buy tickets for the 50th-anniversary Spring Show April 13 and 14, see memorialmarkettes.com.