Most days of the year, Hillcrest High School student Kathleen Meeks starts class by 7:30 every morning, though school doesn’t actually begin until 8. Some might think that’s unusually eager for a high school student, but she doesn’t do it alone. She’s there with more than 25 of her closest friends, who together make up the school’s drill team, the Panaders.

 

Every weekday, the members start dancing, kicking and leaping about the room at an hour when many of us are shuffling down hallways and clinging to coffee cups. It takes discipline and commitment, but the hours of practice pay off in more ways than one.

 

          “I first joined because I love to dance, but once you get on the team, you realize what a sisterhood it is,” says Meeks, this year’s captain. “It’s like a big family.”

 

          That sisterhood, long an important part of the drill team, will be especially evident this month at the school’s homecoming. There they’ll celebrate the 50th anniversary of the drill team’s start, with all former Panaders invited to an alumni reception and special seating for the parade and football game.

 

Janet Scott, who teaches math at Hillcrest and Franklin Middle School , is sure to be there. Hillcrest is her alma mater, and her graduating class will celebrate its 40-year reunion during that weekend. She’s also a former Panader, with fond memories of early morning practices with more than 80 girls, many of them with curlers in their hair.

 

“It was a great group of girls,” she says. “Of course, our uniforms were much different than those today. I’m glad spandex had not been invented back then!”

 

Scott not only still keeps in touch with many fellow Panaders, she also has enlisted them to contribute to a Panader Endowment Fund she started.

 

“I want every girl who wants to be on drill team to have that opportunity,” she says. “They learn so much more than dance steps.”

 

          The entire season is something of a homecoming for the Panaders director, Lori Hawkins. It’s her first year to teach at the school, but she came with pretty good credentials: She was captain of the drill team 10 years ago.

 

“I always wanted to come back and be the director of the drill team,” she says. “It was such an important part of my life, and I wanted to give the girls the same kind of experience.

 

“It’s not only the fun of performing and having that sisterhood, it teaches them to be leaders and be responsible. This organization really helps mature a person.”

 


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