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Red Jackets cheered on UL Lafayette 65 years ago


Red Jackets cheered on UL Lafayette 65 years ago

Pep squad returns
Red Jackets cheered on UL Lafayette 65 years ago
Marsha Sills

March 27, 2004

Claudia B. Laws/The Lafayette Daily Advertiser
Former Red Jackets members, from left, Margaret McMillan, Fabia Park, Betty Lowry, Jane Ellen Carstens and Barbara Martin gather Wednesday at the UL Lafayette Alumni Center.LAFAYETTE


� The ladies in red are back on campus to remember their days of cheering, �Yay, rouge! Yay, blanc! Yay, bulldogs! Allons!"

Nearly 65 years ago, the Red Jackets, the university’s pep squad, cheered on their athletes, not from the field, but the stands.

�The red jackets were probably the most high-spirited group of women ever to walk the university," said Margaret McMillan. McMillan was a member of the group in the late 1930s and later a faculty adviser to the organization until the late 1950s, when the group was dissolved.

On Friday and today, McMillan and about 80 of the former Red Jackets are coming together for a reunion to remember the cheers and the laughs as they supported the university’s athletes.

Clad in red blazers, pleated white skirts and white gloves, the young women performed during half-time, often lining themselves up to spell out the score or the school’s letters on the field. In the stands, they’d cheer and rile up the fans, moving their white gloves in time with the band. That was when the letters were a little different � Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute and Southwestern Louisiana Institute. The school went through another name change to the University of Southwestern Louisiana before becoming UL Lafayette.

Jane Ellen Carstens, Red Jacket from 1939 to 1942, is the unofficial historian of sorts who has rummaged through old yearbooks to find glory day pictures.

�The squad grew from 20 to over 100 over the years," Carstens said. The last picture of the group found in the L’Acadien yearbook was in 1959. Its first chapter was formed in 1938.

Earlier this week, Carstens had copies of the pages lined out on a table in the UL Lafayette Alumni Center. A small group of local Red Jackets looked over their faces and their own armfuls of memories they brought to add to the collection.

And some things not pictured, like young girls grabbing their hair to form 30 pigtails for initiation into the group.

�They had an initiation ceremony that was ridiculously funny," said Betty Brent Dugal, Red Jacket from 1951-52 in a phone interview.

�I think it was 30 pigtails in your hair. Now, looking at UL’s record, (it) would probably get us banned from campus," Dugal laughed. Dugal will be wearing a pair of white gloves on her visit to campus, but not the same pair she wore in the ’50s, she joked.

The group members will take a tour of their alma mater this morning. Prospective students and their families will also be on campus deciding whether UL Lafayette will become a memory maker for them.

Now, the bulldogs are no more. A red pepper mascot for the Ragin’ Cajuns takes it place. Gone, too, are the ladies in red and white who cheered from the stands moving their white gloved hands in unison with the music blowing from the band. But not their spirit for the university.

�Combining military precision and feminine charm, the Red Jackets add color to Southwestern’s athletic contests…" reads the 1943 edition of the L’Acadien.

In 1937, McMillan’s friend, Ella Belle Lusted, initiated the concept of a pep squad for the university. The school had cheerleaders, but needed a group to motivate the people in the stands. A year later, the first group of 12 members formed, beginning a tradition that faded in 1959.

McMillan was the �driving force" behind the group of young women, Dugal said.

�Nobody broke her law," Dugal joked. Even today, some of her �girls" still call McMillan �Ms. Mac."

The group is looking forward to story swapping, said Barbara Martin. She was a Red Jacket from 1953 to 1957.

She told the group of women what she considered to be one of her embarrassing Red Jacket moments when she was absent from a general assembly where she received an award. Someone shouted that she was at a party.

�I promise, Ms. Mac, I wasn’t there," she said, laughing.

The women would also tie their slips around their necks if they lost the white ascot that was part of their uniform, Martin said.

�I didn’t know about that," laughed McMillan.

Corinne Randazzo is looking forward to hearing more of those �never knew that" stories from her fellow Red Jackets. Randazzo graduated in 1954 and lives in Vidalia.

�I loved SLI back then," Randazzo said. �It was a wonderful, loving campus."

©The Lafayette Daily Advertiser
March 27, 2004