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Classroom Champion: Strutting her stuff


Texas City Sun (10/26/2004)

Rachel Hunter

SANTA FE — Twenty-five years ago Patti Hanssard received an offer she couldn’t refuse. It was her first year as an English teacher at Santa Fe High School and the student activity director asked her to take over the Tribal Belles, which at that time was a pep squad.

“I had no experience with pep squads so I said I’d do it on the condition that I could make it into a drill team,” Hanssard said.

With years of dance experience to her resume Hanssard set out to not only create a drill team, but to do it on a scale few could imagine. When it first began the high school dance team consisted of about 20 students. Today, Hanssard has molded the Tribal Belles into an accomplished drill team with more than 70 members, and eight years ago she helped bring dance classes into the Fine Arts Department to be offered to students as a credited physical education class.

“I have about 30 students in a class,” said Hanssard. “My classes are always full and a lot of the students try out for the Belles after they take the class.”

Although many may look with astonishment at the dance program Hanssard almost single-handedly created, in her view it was the next logical step to a dance career decades in the making.

“My mother put me in dance classes at the age of three,” she explained. “That had such an impact in my life. I took everything, from ballet to jazz, and I took it until I was in high school. I’ve often wondered where I’d be if my mother didn’t put me in dance classes as a child.”

Once in high school Hanssard said it was difficult to find time to attend dance classes, but she refused to turn in her dancing shoes. The lifelong resident of Hitchcock joined her high school drill team and latter became a Strutter at Southwest Texas State University.

In 1978 Hanssard graduated from SWT with a degree in business and minor in English. She taught English to ninth grade students in Angleton for a semester before going to work for Santa Fe High School. Over the years Hanssard has found the time to raise two children, earn two masters degrees (in Occupational Education and Mid-Management), and receive a dance degree from the University of Houston.

“I taught English for the first five years (at Santa Fe), then I moved to the business department and taught computers, now after years of not teaching English I have a freshman English class,” Hanssard laughed. “I have taught dance classes for PE credit for about the last eight years and I’ve had the Tribal Belles for 25 years... that sounds like a lot, but I love it.”

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Tribal Belles drill team, Hanssard invited all her former Belles to perform with the current drill team at a football half-time show Nov. 5. Over 50 former Belles are expected to participate in the anniversary half-time show, bringing the total number of Belles to more than 120. It’s a level of participation that Hanssard said did not surprise her.

“From the very start I tried to instill a sense of family, tradition and team work in the girls on my team,” she said. “We had shirts made that say, “Tribal Belles we are and Tribal Belles we always will be,” and that is the truth.”

It is not important to Hanssard how many awards her drill team has received, although they have won more than their share over the years, and it is not important to her to have the largest dance team in the area. What is most important to Hanssard is that the lessons and values she strives to teach have a positive influence beyond high school.

“I try to teach my girls leadership, dedication, hard work and what it means to be on a team,” said Hanssard. “To me the true success is what my girls take with them once they’re outside of high school. The awards are great, but how many people come up to you after high school and ask what awards you won on drill team? That is just not what is important.”

The first practice for the 25th anniversary performance was held Saturday. Hanssard asked that all former Tribal Belles interested in participating in the half-time event attend the next practice Oct. 30 in the Santa Fe High School gym.

For more information about the Tribal Belles or the anniversary performance please call Patti Hanssard at (409) 925-3526 ext. 132.