Everybody in sports has a story, but some are more fascinating than others.
In 1964, one of the majorettes eager to perform with the University of Missouri marching band – that is, for football halftime shows – arrived to a tryout in a silver-sequined leotard. That piqued the interest of Charles Emmons, the Innovation Director.
Thus, the Mizzou Golden Girls were launched.
“He said, ‘I’d like to see that in gold!’” said Patty Gramm Kespohl, a twirler on the 1965 squad and, later, the coach of the Mizzou Golden Girls for 33 years. “We weren’t officially announced as the Golden Girls – maybe a reporter gave us that name – but we were always looking for twirlers until (Emmons’ successor Alex) Pickard got tired of watching the girls pick up dropped batons.”
The Mizzou Golden Girls have been the official dance team at the University of Missouri since 1965, and their influence – and success in competitions – have led to quite the honor. You see, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted the Mizzou Golden Girls with the Class of 2023.
Mainly, they began in 1965 as a troupe of seven sequined baton twirlers. It has since grown into a nationally recognized and frequently televised dance team of 30-plus. The Golden Girls have won National Championships in 1990, 1991, and 2003. Over the years, their coaches have been Patty Kespohl, Shannon Fry and Cayla Timberlake.
Through history, the team has had between 14 to 38 team members, and have competed in the National Cheerleading Association, USA Collegiate Championship and National Dance Alliance.
In a five-year stretch of the 1970s, they bussed to St. Louis to perform for the St. Louis Football Cardinals games and dressed in red-and-white uniforms.
Many girls have extended their careers by dancing for teams in the National Football League, National Basketball Association, as well as on Broadway and in the movie and television business. The alumna base also includes teachers, nurses, attorneys, real estate agents, physicians, CPAs, pharmacists, stay at home mothers, and so many more professions.
Overall, the Golden Girls’ most coveted role is being ambassadors for the University of Missouri and the state itself. Each year, its participation in the community is a highlight for each squad member.
And to think the beginnings came in the mid-1960s, almost by chance.
Emmons had been asked to put together a halftime show at the 1960 Orange Bowl. From there came the still-popular “Flip Tigers” routine in which band members form the word “Mizzou” and then transition into “Tigers.”
As more and more experienced dancers auditioned, Kespohl and Pickard eventually phased out twirling and incorporated more costumed halftime numbers, including the Charleston and a performance to the song “Kids” from the musical Bye Bye Birdie.
In 1987, then-Mizzou Director of Athletics Joe Castiglione (MSHOF 2015) wanted the Golden Girls to perform during basketball games at the Hearnes Center.
The closer quarters forced Kespohl to trim the roster to 14 dancers.
“As a Golden Girl, I gained confidence, but I also learned the value of trying your best and being part of a team,” said Linda Russell, a 1972 Mizzou graduate. “You don’t want to let your team down, but you have to have fun. Those years were some of the best of my college experience.”
Today, the squad trains at the posh Tiger Performance Complex, south of Memorial Stadium, which opened in 2011 and which they share with the gymnastics program.
In addition to having the opportunity to participate in numerous philanthropic events around the community, having the chance to perform at Bowl Games, NCAA Tournaments, Nationals, Ireland, and in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are notable experiences for all involved.
“Our first responsibility is to be ambassadors for the University of Missouri,” said Shannon Fry, a 1995 Mizzou graduate who later coached the Golden Girls for more than 20 years. “When you become a Golden Girl, you take on the name of every single girl who wore the gold sequins before you. I always tell them, ‘This is not a job; it’s a lifestyle.’”
Timberlake, the current coach, is carrying the torch, so to speak.
“The opportunity to wear gold sequin, and the brand it represents, is one of my highest honors to date,” Timberlake said. “From Patty’s vision and creation of the Golden Girls, to Shannon’s elevation of the program, I can only hope to carry on those traditions. What I have learned from them over the past 15 years has helped shape me as a coach, friend, mentor, and mother.”