February celebrates Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by the Black community and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history.
As we celebrate Black History Month, we take the time to recognize trailblazers within the cheer and dance space. Both cheer and dance are the sports that we love today because of the influence of these trailblazers, along with many others.
“Dance Team” wouldn’t be what we see today without the influence that many early African American dancers had on dance in general. Katherine Dunham was an American dancer, choreographer and activist who led the only self-supported American black dance troupe in the 1940s: Katherine Dunham Dance Company. She inspired dancers all over as she traveled worldwide and later opened the Katherine Dunham School of Dance and Theater in New York. While studying in Haiti, Dunham recognized the African roots of black dance in the West Indies. Upon returning to the states, she used her studies to her advantage and worked to keep African American movement qualities evident in American dance.
Andrews was a part of the second racially integrated class at Florida State University. Her first year at FSU was in 1969. Andrews solidified her own piece of history at the University when she became the first black cheerleader to make the squad at Florida State.
Andrews went on to be an educator and guidance counselor for 35 years before retirement. She lived in Central Kentucky, where her husband Larry Gay was from. She met her husband at the start of her first year at FSU. Gay was a basketball star who went on to help the Seminoles make the Final Four in 1972!
Debra Lee “DJ” Johnson was a gymnast and dancer who was selected for the Penn State Cheerleading squad in 1977. She became the first black Cheerleading Captain for the program and lead the team to a National Championship in 1980!
Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall was the first black cheerleader at the University of California, Berkeley in the late 1970’s. Her work ethic leading into college granted her a full scholarship to UCB. In 2018, she became the first black, female CEO in the NBA for the Dallas Mavericks.
Rhonda Shelby became the first black member of the Brigham Young University Cougarette Dance Team when she made the squad in 1982. Shelby went on to be a captain of the cheer team at BYU. In 1985, she graduated from BYU with a degree in broadcast journalism.
Dawn Duncan Walters became the first black Head Coach for the University of Kentucky Dance Team. Dawn was a part of original UK Dance Team in 1983, along with a part of the University of Kentucky Cheer Team for the first two National Championships that they won. She also opened the first All Star Cheerleading facility in Kentucky in 1989!
We had the opportunity to interview Dr. Nikole Roebuck, the first woman in Grambling State University history to be named Director of Bands. As a former member of the World Famed Tiger Marching Band in the 1990’s, she now leads this group on the field and in the stands that are so familiar to her. Read below to learn more about Dr. Roebuck and her leadership among the “Best Band in the Land.”
Describe the atmosphere of the games.
I would describe the atmosphere of Grambling State football games to be exciting and riveting. The presence of our World Famed Tiger Marching Band instills great anticipation in all our fans as they await our entrance and exhilarating halftime performance.
What activities outside of the game does the band participate in?
Our World Famed marching band has been a part of a variety of activities outside of our own Eddie Robinson Stadium… Our list includes performances in both NFL and NBA arenas, six Super Bowls, Tournament of Roses, the MLK parade, and various movies, among other activities.
What is your favorite memory during your time as the band director?
As for my favorite memory during my time as the band director, I can limit it down to two… One being the moment I realized I was appointed as the first female marching Band Director for the Grambling State University World Famed Tiger Marching Band. My other favorite memory comes from the first football game with the band under my directorship. The first time leading the band through the tunnel onto the field was an amazing moment.
What makes Grambling State Tiger Band the “Best Band in the Land”?
The World Famed Tiger Marching Band is at the high caliber it is due to our unique style and techniques of marching. Our ability to play and dance at the same time leads to our distinctive showmanship that we exhibit while entertaining. Our resume of global appearances also attributes to the specialty of this program.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I want to give a special thanks to the World Famed POWERTeam and students for all of their hard work and dedication, and to the administration and alumni for their continued support. At the end of the day this job is not about me but about the students that God has entrusted me with to have a positive impact on their lives. Standing on the shoulders of greatness I will continue to pave the way for others to come.
Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Football Classics are more than just a football game. These games are a celebration of school spirit, rooted deep in tradition, bringing rival schools together each year for a special event. Unlike bowl games, the HBCU Classics take place during the regular football season and festivities include concerts, tailgates, battle of the bands, parades, and other social events, all while embracing the culture and history of HBCUs.
In honor and celebration of Black History Month, here’s a look at some of the history and culture behind four of the largest HBCU games.
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