Southern Belles celebrate 30 years of excellence

PARKERSBURG – The Parkersburg South High School Southern Belles is celebrating 30 years of accomplishments and community service.

The “high-energy” dance team, formed in 1983, marked the anniversary with a tailgate dinner at the Erickson All-Sports Facility tennis courts before the Parkersburg South High School football game on Sept. 13.

The 60 Southern Belles alumnae joined the current Belles in performing the school’s fight song before South’s football game that night.

During the tailgate reunion, Southern Belles, past and present, looked at albums filled with photographs and newspaper stories chronicling their school activities and national competition wins.

It was the first time a Southern Belles reunion had been held, said Tami Sams, director and coach for the past 14 years.

“The reunion was special,” said Sams, whose daughters Lindsey, Whitney and Keri were Southern Belles. Keri and Whitney attended the Friday night reunion.

At the reunion the former Southern Belles said they wanted to stay in contact with each other, Tami Sams said. “They shared stories and memorabilia.”

Keri Sams remains a choreographer for the Southern Belles’ hip-hop and kick routines even though she lives in Mount Sinai, N.Y. She has helped coach and choreograph the dance team since graduating from Parkersburg South in 2002.

Keri helps with instruction through Skype on the computer and a private Facebook page for the Southern Belles where she can watch video of the routines.

Kristen Johnson has helped as coach/choreographer since 2005. Tricia Sanders has helped coach the team the last two years.

Keri said she liked the dance part of the Southern Belles and being part of the growth of the team over the years.

Jennifer (Parsons) Daugherty of Slate was a charter member of the Southern Belles her senior year in 1983.

Daugherty said she enjoyed being a Southern Belle.

“It raised the school spirit,” she said at the reunion. “We got a lot of support.”

Daugherty noted that the Southern Belles are involved in projects that benefit the community.

These include Make-a-Wish, Camden Clark Foundation, Parkersburg News and Sentinel Half Marathon, Relay for Life, Salvation Army, Anna’s Army, Wood County Society and Old Man Rivers.

Daugherty’s daughter Jessica was a Southern Belle in 2010-11 before graduating from South and daughter Jenna, a senior, has been a four-year member of the dance team.

Jessica said she enjoyed performing the kick routines as a Southern Belle. Jenna said the Southern Belles are “like a big family; you get close to the coaches and team.”

“Tami (Sams) has made it something all the girls enjoy,” said Jennifer Daugherty. “It feels like a family.”

Barbara Phillips was the first director of the Southern Belles and Terry Gunter was the first coach.

Whitney (Sams) Dobson, who graduated from South in 2005, said it was fun dancing as a Southern Belle in front of the “best crowds” and for competition. She helped to coach the Southern Belles for four years after graduating from West Virginia University.

The Southern Belles practice several days a week and participate in conditioning drills during the school year and summer in the 11-month program.

“The Southern Belles are good, smart kids,” Tami Sams said. “They have so much to do and have a lot to learn and memorize.”

The Southern Belles perform their high-kick, hip-hop routine at Parkersburg South High football and basketball games, at competitions and for community service projects.

The girls learn 10 kick routines for football and basketball seasons and a competition kick and hip-hop routine, Tami Sams said.

Parkersburg South High School Principal Tom Eschbacher described the Southern Belles as “great ambassadors for the school. They have represented the school well.”

Tami Sams estimated that 90 percent of the Southern Belles attend college after high school. The team’s grade point average last year was 3.8 out of a perfect 4.0, she said.

Kayla Layner, a Southern Belle from 2006-2009, is getting her master’s in occupational therapy from West Virginia University.

Layner said she loved performing with the Southern Belles. “The team is well respected, wins championships and is unique to South,” she said.

Several former Southern Belles have returned to help the team during the summer and on their college breaks.