Even disinterested spectators of Central High School football games can’t help but be entertained by the pre-game show.
The Central Kilties can raise goosebumps with their booming drums, proud trumpets and chilling bagpipe sounds. Add synchronized marching, tartans and kilts, and you have one of the oldest traditions in Springfield high school football.
Senior Genae Cole serves as majorette, the student leader of the all-girl Scottish drum and bugle corps. The Central Kilties will celebrate their 90th anniversary in April. The Kilties perform at sporting events, parades and memorial services, and are a fixture at Bulldogs home games.
“With a football performance you can display more to a big crowd,” Cole said. “You know that people from classes, your friends are out there watching you and proud to see you perform.”
Cole didn’t have much musical experience when she became a Kilties snare drummer her freshman year. She also wasn’t much of a football fan, but considers herself a Bulldogs fan today. She and the Kilties haven’t missed a game, home or away, in two years.
Central beat Mt. Vernon 28-26 in overtime last week to finish the regular season 5-4, Central’s first winning season since 2002.
“I was super excited for that game last week. Oh my gosh, that game was intense,” Cole said.
While Cole said she enjoys performing, one of her favorite parts of being majorette is getting to know girls she wouldn’t otherwise befriend.
“It’s kind of a mixing pot of people, so it’s fun to work with that,” Cole said. “It’s good to work with the freshmen so that they feel incorporated into how high school works because they have older girls to rely on if they need help.”
The Central Kilties receive no funding from Springfield Public Schools. Fundraising is a big part of membership. The group has sold laundry detergent, kitchen cutlery, Tupperware, cookie dough and coupon books for fundraising. Kilties also worked the concession stands at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds and at Hammons Field in order to keep up with operating costs, but faculty sponsor Jessica Freeman explained that the Kilties still have to pay for membership.
Origin and history of the Kilties
Springfield High School music director R. Ritchie Robertson, a native of Scotland, founded the Kilties in 1926. He originally wanted to form an all-girl drum and bugle corps to commemorate his Scottish heritage and to complement a band of Boy Scouts he also directed.
Robertson wanted girls to be involved with a music program.
“The purpose of Kilties is to create good, all-around citizens,” Freeman, a Central alumnus and former Kiltie, said. “Our original purpose when R. Ritchie Roberts founded us was as a community service group, because there was no avenue for girls to play an instrument at school; it wasn’t allowed.”
The Kilties held their first performance at a Rotary convention in Springfield in 1926, clad head to toe in Scottish attire and under the leadership of Majorette Esther Marshall.
The group performed under the moniker “Scotch Lassies” from 1927 to 1939. Following Robertson’s death in 1939, the group adopted Kilties as its formal name.
The Kilties play their songs on base drums, snare drums, tenor drums, trumpets and bagpipes.
“The Sword Dance” is a yearly ritual the majorette performs with actual swords prior to Central’s homecoming football game. Other Kiltie songs that have stood the test of 90 years include the “Highland Fling,” “Shileighleigh,” and “Scotland the Brave.”
“Those are very traditional. They don’t change, you don’t mess with them, do the same steps, same song every year,” Freeman said. “We try to keep everything as traditional as possible, but we have made up a few new things.”
This year the corps reintroduced cymbals to the mix for the first time since the 1970s.
All five of Springfield’s public high schools have had drum and bugle corps in the past, but the Kilties hold the honor of being the longest continually running, all-girls drum and bugle group in the United States according to Springfield Public Schools. The Parkview Lassies are the only other Scottish drum and bugle corps in Springfield.
Cole and the Kilties will hold a 90th anniversary party the first weekend in April, which will include a performance on Park Central Square downtown, the site of the first Kilties performance in 1926.
The Kilties will be part of the festivities Friday when Central hosts Glendale in the News-Leader Playoff Game of the Week. The winning team advances to the Class 5 District 5 semifinals.
The Springfield News-Leader Game of the Week helps showcase one high school football game per week through the regular season. The Game of the Week is selected by the News-Leader staff based on an array of criteria including quality of play, rivalry, conference significance and playoff implications.
News-Leader Game of the Week
Glendale (3-6) at Central (5-4)
Friday, Oct. 23, 7 p.m.
900 N. Summit Ave., Springfield