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After 50 years, original UK Majorettes twirl their batons to promote ‘dying art’

Sweetheart Majorettes twirl with Wildcat Marching Band during KY-Georgia halftime

University of Kentucky Sweetheart Majorettes join the Wildcat Marching Band and Alumni band on Kroger Field during halftime of the Kentucky, Georgia football game Saturday.
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University of Kentucky Sweetheart Majorettes join the Wildcat Marching Band and Alumni band on Kroger Field during halftime of the Kentucky, Georgia football game Saturday.

In their heyday in the late 1960s, a photograph of the University of Kentucky Sweetheart Majorettes appeared in Newsweek magazine, and when the young women went out as a group, people treated them like celebrities, remembers former majorette Lynda Williams Closson.

On Saturday, at halftime of the UK-Georgia football game, about 40 former team members from various decades were twirling their batons in a performance that marked the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Kentucky Sweetheart Majorettes. Pants and T-shirts had replaced the sequined costumes of their college days, but the sparkle was still there.

On, on U of K, that’s our fight song. It’s in your soul,” said Frankie Bratton-Jeffery, who traveled from Florida to be with her 1968 team members. “I can still do that routine.”

In addition to “On, on, U of K,” the alumni women performed to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” They each practiced with the help of a video before Saturday’s performance.

Shana Turner Snook, who was on the 1968 team, said that after a week of practice at home, “I did start remembering.”

Closson, who was on the 1968 team, said the performance was not just about reliving glory days. The alumni group, which includes twirlers from all years, is making a concerted effort to strengthen the majorette program, to draw more students to the sport of baton twirling not just at UK, but at Kentucky high schools, so more students will want to transfer into the UK program. And if males ever decide to participate, they think that would be just fine.

“It is ... a dying art,” said Closson. The 1968 Sweethearts are hoping that celebrating their 50th reunion at halftime will bring donations to the newly established UK Sweetheart Majorette Scholarship Fund. Alumni have also established a booster fund to help support the current team with items such as boots. They are passionate about building the program, said Jason Baker, a gift and estate planning officer at UK.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Sally Moore Barnhart, a member of the 1968 team who now teaches at Xavier University in Cincinnati. “It’s time for us to give back to a school that gave so much to us.”

1968 Official photo  KY Sweethearts.jpg
The 1968 University of Kentucky Sweetheart Majorettes are (left to right): Nancy Carter Walton, OH deceased; Sally Moore Barnhart, Lexington; Dee Hawkins Chavez, Morehead; Nancy Bowles, KY deceased; Chris Carter Schultz, Louisa; Kathy Norris, KY; Debbie Castle Craft, Louisa; Frankie Bratton Jeffery, Scottsville; Lynda Williams Closson, Stanford; and Shana Turner Snook, Louisa. Front row, left to right, Cherie Hubbard Roeth, Bradford, Ohio and Joanne Windish Ingram, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Photo provided

In 1968, the then all-male UK marching band added both female musicians and a line of majorettes and flag girls. With the first majorette tryouts drawing 150 girls, the first team ultimately had 10 majorettes, including two featured twirlers. Closson said the first group of Sweetheart Majorettes performed on the old Stoll Field during a half-time performance with the UK marching band.

Those were the days when many girls took baton twirling lessons, and many more practiced in the backyard.

A few years ago, interest dropped off to the point that there were only three UK majorettes. Last year, there were only five. That number has grown to eight in 2018, and the alumni members hope ten majorettes are back “on the line” soon.

Recently, the UK program has facilitated clinics for younger girls and reached out to high school majorettes.

“We want to make it as grand as it was 5O years ago,” said Medina McAnallen, the president of the Kentucky Sweethearts Alumni Club and the coach for the current team. She was a majorette in the 1980s.

“I want everyone to think Kentucky basketball, football and majorettes,” she said.

To discuss a scholarship gift, contact Jason Baker at UK Philanthropy by phone at 859-323-7385 or email j.baker@uky.edu. To give via the university’s secure giving page, visit uky.networkforgood.com and in the search bar type Sweetheart Majorette Scholarship Fund.

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