The buildup for the movie Friday Night Lights always excites and takes me back to an amazing time.
I think about tryouts, spring training, camps, two-a-days, practices in Texas’ heat, the smell of fresh-cut grass, the pressure to be better—both individually and as a team. If you love this hype as much as I do, then I must tell you that the “Texas tough” to which I refer isn’t ballers; it’s my drill team, the Eastwood High School Trooperettes—70-ish of the best young women in my high school—and our leader, an extraordinary woman and a force not to be messed with, Patricia Hufford.
To be honest—and I think I speak for all members of my team—no one wanted to disappoint The Huff! Patricia Hufford—one of the most influential women in a leadership position I ever had the pleasure to work—instilled within me life lessons I didn’t realize I was learning at the time.
Thou Shall and Thou Shall Not — Great leaders get everyone on the same page.
From parents and other caregivers to every squad member, we where one team, and everyone knew the rules...
For The Huff, there were no surprises.
I first met The Huff in 1986; I would be an incoming freshman and had just made the dance team. Before summer started, there was the obligatory new member orientation. I remember taking my mother to Eastwood and finding my name on the roster posted outside the gym door. Afterward, my mom and I quickly moved inside and took our places among other neophytes and their adults. In true form, we started on time—the first rule of Trooperettes: Don’t be late. I’ll get to this later. After a few pleasantries and gratitudes, The Huff dove into her first order of business—which my mother would later dub, The Thou Shall and Thou Shall Nots of being a Trooperette—that is, clear, concise rules, expectations, and The Huff’s philosophies. After revealing her plans for a successful year, The Huff opened the meeting to questions. I am quite sure my mother thought I was going to get my ass kicked, but little did she know, I was inspired!
Once the meeting concluded, I was officially a Trooperette! I was with my people, and, I truly believed in my soul, this group was everything in life. Together we would be better than the teams before us; and, with The Huff as a master for setting our vision and tone, we were going to expand our worlds in ways I never saw coming.
The Captains & Officers — Great leaders delegate.
I must admit I wasn’t prepared for the hard work! Looking back, it was some of the hardest physical challenges I have ever done. But, because I was doing my best, I didn’t care how much effort it took.
The Huff’s Trooperette structure was profoundly smart. She didn’t have time to deal with 70+ teenage women, one-on-one, all of the time. For this reason, she put in place a strong leadership team of captains and officers—juniors and seniors trained and trusted by her to make us successful … well, as much trust as one can give 17- and 18-year-olds. Through my 14-year-old lens, each day leaders pushed us outside of ourselves and our comfort zones, encouraging us to give more and perform better. Because all Trooperettes explicitly understood The Huff’s system, most issues and disputes were settled amongst ourselves.
Pretty soon I began seeing other newbies and myself being transformed—growing out of our individual unsure selves into confident and talented young women.
No Pass, No Play — Great leaders inspire others to show up and are fully present.
Football season was intense, and I’m not talking about for the football players. Seriously … we practiced in both early morning and after school. Somehow—between The Huff’s requirements, home responsibilities, fun and schoolwork—we managed to knock out class credits. Simply put: If we didn’t pass all classes, we didn’t get to dance. Long story short, Trooperettes—like other athletes—had to be present in class, organized and focused to keep up with every aspect of high school life.
You must know, Patsy Hufford was probably 5'2" in heels. She always had perfect hair, makeup and dressed to the nines. She also had a big voice, which was often magnified by her companion, Bullhorn. Whether she walked into Trooper Stadium, a gym or a room, The Huff was a presence.
Every Thursday night during football season, we performed full-blown rehearsals with the marching band. On one of these Thursdays none of us—from captains on down—had our stuff together. If memory serves me, we had become too big for our britches—that is to say, we got this; let’s slack off. The storm brewing could be felt in the air.
On the field and from my side of the line, I watched The Huff walk up one side of the stadium with Bullhorn. After making her way to the top center of the stadium, the music started, and we performed our initial run-through. Afterward and as she gave very specific instructions through Bullhorn, we knew it was bad. As we moved from one run-through to another without using Bullhorn, her instructions became more and more terse and exact. Finally, with the last run-through done, the music stopped.
The Huff raised Bullhorn and bellowed, “Run until I get tired.”
We ran what seemed to be an hours—I suspect it was probably 800 meters—before she finally let us stop. It was over … so we thought. The Huff gave us a much-deserved lecture about being prepared and showing up. Once done, she made our entire squad move to the practice field, where we rehearsed until it was right.
I learned a lot from The Huff in those moments. If you want to be among the best, you also have to be present, fully engaged and give a damn about yourself and your team; and every single person, without question, has the responsibility to do their absolute best.
Figure It Out — Great leaders know women are smart and powerful.
One night my team danced at a band booster banquet. And for some reason, I thought I had taken all elements of my uniform with me. As we prepared for the warm-up, I pulled my clean white shoes, skirt and shirt from my bag; but no white gloves. All I could think to myself was “Shiiiiiit!” I called my mom, panicked, “Please find my white gloves and bring them when you come. I have to have them!”
In true form, my mother could not find my lost white gloves. I started freaking out, thinking about 400 meters I would run the following morning! As I paced, trying to find a solution, I remembered a pair of white Bill Blass socks in my bag. Hmmmm! I hatched a plan: I could fold the socks to look like mittens; and if I positioned my hands correctly, no one would know!
The performance went well and no one saw my glove/socks … so I thought. MY MOTHER saw my mittens and made a gut-wrenching laugh during our entire performance. Once the booster meeting was over, she and I made our way to The Huff to say good night … or at least this is what I thought would be the gist of the conversation. Succinctly stated: My mother snitched. Sure my mother laughed as she told the story, but she wouldn’t have to pay the piper 400 meters — I would! To my surprise and delight, though, The Huff totally caught me off guard. She had me put on my sock gloves. A few moments later she took her turn laughing hard. Afterward, she said, “Never let it be said that these young women aren’t smart!”
Lesson learned: Adversity comes and goes, then comes back again. Figure out the problem, solve it and move on … unless, of course, your mother is a tattletale.
Hawaii x Two — Great leaders dream big and create.
I, along with many of my peers, were lucky young women—able to travel to Hawaii twice in high school. Both trips because of Patsy Hufford. Not only did she organize the trip—planes, hotels, transportation, volunteers, chaperones, fundraisers and much more—but she also got Eastwood High and the Ysleta Independent School District to approve both trips! If you have done anything outside the box with an institution, you completely understand these amazing gifts she gave us. Later I would come to realize her valuable lesson: It takes as much energy to dream big as it does to dream small. For this reason, dream big and put forth the best efforts possible to make it happen.
Both times that we competed in Hawaii, we performed really well. Yet, the Pearl Harbor Memorial and talking to a veteran who witnessed the attack impacted me more. Missing a few days of school and the actual tournament were important. But building memories and experiences that could never be taught in classrooms and textbooks deeply affected me more. Thanks, Huff.
I Hate Running — Great leaders have mandates (i.e. Don’t be late.)
The Huff was a stickler for lots of things, with arriving on time at the top of the list. Consequently, The Huff had a magical algorithm for keeping tardies to a minimum: Run one track lap for each minute tardy (I think. Goodness, it’s been decades since I was in high school). I hated running. For this simple reason I was determined never to arrive late for any Trooperette activity. I’m quite sure over the course of four years I hit the track for a couple of minor infractions, but not once for punctuality. To this day, I am 99.99999% on time for events, meetings and flights. The Huff absolutely played a role in my ability to respect not only time itself, but others’ time as well. And, like my disdain for running, I do not want others waiting on me.
We Are National Champions! — Great leaders belong—or act like they belong—because they do!
It was 1988-ish. Madonna, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston were big stars on Billboard; The Cosby Show was the number-one TV show; and the Eastwood High School Trooperettes were preparing to compete on the national stage—televised by ESPN.
Arriving at the competition, I felt old inadequacies stirring and taking hold, especially those reminding me that I was different. The stares, the whispers from faces reminding me, once again, I did not fit in. Simply put, I became wide-eyed, overwhelmed and scared.
As an African American growing up, culturally I often felt alone. It was as though I was trapped on a deserted island surrounded by a sea of cultures—including my own—and I belonged to none of them. At some point during my early youth, I learned to hide my fears and uncertainties and began swimming in these troubled waters. Hindsight—and I certainly didn’t understand this at the time—I was developing adaptation skills—that is, no one is the same person in all situations, and the ability to improvise proves invaluable.
Reflecting now, I imagine all of my teammates with ginormous eyes, full of anxiety and body language reeking from a sense of not belonging. After all, we would be facing elite teams from across the United States that were suppose to be there. We were a bunch of misfit, greenhorns from El Paso, Texas—as far West Texas as you can go. Perhaps she saw our panic, perhaps she saw our deer-in-the-headlight faces, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. What I do know and vividly remember is The Huff.
Using her bullhorn-less, calm, confident voice, she gathered us together and spoke four prodigious words, which I still rely on to this day: “Act like you belong.”
That was all it took—four-simple, yet powerful encouraging words from this five-foot-nothing of a woman whom we respected and admired. Not only did we respond and rise to the occasion—possibly out of fear from running 400 meters in front of all the veteran teams—but we won!
This Huff lesson is one of the most important pieces of advice anyone has ever given me: I don’t have to fake and/or fear belonging, because I do belong! Some people call it experience; I call it confidence.
Patsy Hufford Kimble — My first boss
I was in a meeting earlier this summer with a few CEOs who happened to be women. During part of our discussion, I realized the importance of celebrating women who have helped on our journeys. The Huff: my first badass boss, my mentor, my coach, my teacher, one amazing woman and someone I continue to aspire to make proud!
Many thanks to all of the Trooperettes (and cheerleaders) who encouraged this article and helped me locate our first female boss.