Stephen F. Austin State University

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Grace, Poise, Style!

December 1, 2014 - Robbie Goodrich

For many Lumberjack families, love for SFA spans generations. Members of one spirited East Texas clan have left an enduring mark on a particularly beloved and admired university tradition - the SFA Twirl-O-Jacks.

Pat (Griffin) Bridges, a 1962 SFA graduate, started it all when she came to campus in fall 1959. She was recruited by then Lumberjack Band director Jimmy Hudgins, who came to her home to ask her to help "build a great twirling line" and play the oboe in his concert band.

"I knew nothing about SFA at the time and had planned to go elsewhere on a piano scholarship," she said. "But Mr. Hudgins was very convincing. When he described his love for SFA, the pride he had in that Lumberjack Band and his future aspirations for the twirling line, I was hooked."

After becoming head Twirl-O-Jack in 1960, Pat began to change the dance-twirl style and method of constructing the routines in such a way that movements more closely reflected the moods, dynamics, rhythms and repetition of the music. Soon, the new style became known throughout the region, and aspiring TOJs started trying to learn the unique style even before they came to tryouts.

When Pat married 1961 SFA grad Jerry Bridges and stopped performing that same year, Hudgins asked her to be the SFA "twirlographer," and she served as the choreographer/ sponsor for several years. Prior to that, her husband's sister, Linda Bridges McKinney, a 1964 grad, had joined the TOJ line and was a feature twirler.

By 1960, Pat's younger sister, 1968 SFA Grad Joan Griffin (Bridges), who she describes as "a phenomenal twirler with perfect body style and a fantastic memory," began helping her teach at summer twirling camps and some rehearsals. (Joan eventually married Jerry Bridges' brother, Terry Bridges, a 1964 SFA grad.)

"Joan was a natural teacher and performer," Pat said. "She knew exactly what I wanted for the new TOJ style."

In 1964, Joan was selected head TOJ and followed in her sister's footsteps while adding more baton difficulty to the routines. Joan's relationship with the SFA twirling line spanned more than 40 years, including 37 as choreographer and sponsor. She established the East Texas Twirling Academy in Henderson, which became an icon for twirling excellence and produced hundreds of exceptional performers and teachers.

"Joan perpetuated the TOJ style and embellished it through her wonderful teaching methods, encouragement and active help with recruitment for her beloved SFA," said Pat. "She kept the TOJs in a fine form that no other line could beat. They were respected and the envy of many collegiate institutions."

Pat's daughter, Buffie Bridges, a 1992 SFA graduate, became a TOJ under Joan's leadership in 1987 and was named head twirler the following year. Buffie had begun taking lessons with Joan when she was in kindergarten and loved twirling. She was in Henderson ISD bands and was a high school majorette.

"Band and twirling taught me lifelong lessons," Buffie said. "I learned how important it is to set goals and to never give up until I reach them."

Knowing that her family history would not be enough to win a spot on the TOJ line, Buffie worked hard and listened to her mother and aunt when they pointed out problems with her routines.

"Her body and foot work were wonderful, and her beautiful performances of the TOJ style are still remembered by those who saw her," Pat said.

Buffie emphasized the importance of teamwork in the TOJ philosophy of success. "That attitude remains true in the organization to this day, along with the strong support of SFA band directors and administrators," she said. "TOJ alumni who have added to the talents and expertise of TOJ choreographer/sponsors over the years also have brought TOJ lines to where they are today."

In addition to Buffie's parents graduating from SFA, her brother Jason Bridges, sister-in-law Joey Everitt Bridges and husband Keith Walton, as well as four aunts and uncles and several cousins, are SFA grads.

Buffie's daughter, Ashleigh Walton, a sophomore health science major at SFA, is on the line for 2014 in her second year as assistant head twirler.

"Ashleigh's knowledge of twirling mechanics, how to teach and her ability to critique problems is astute," said grandmother Pat.

Ashleigh said being a TOJ "means the world to me." She began her college career at another Texas university but left at the encouragement of Candice Curbo, a former head TOJ and the current choreographer/ sponsor, to come to SFA and try out for the line.

"I consider myself extremely blessed to be a Twirl- O-Jack," Ashleigh said. "When a group of women can practice every day in the summer heat together for hours on end, constructively critique one another, laugh, cry, spend all day every game day together, and still love and care for one another in an unconditional way, it is a pretty special thing. There isn't another group of women I would want to be making these memories with."

The entire family remains loyal Lumberjacks, attending football games and other SFA events together, and the women, who also share a bond through their Chi Omega sorority, are still active TOJ volunteers, helping with the Tomorrow's TOJ Clinic each fall and a Timeless TOJ Camp last summer.

"Our motto is 'Grace…Poise…Style,' and I feel like the Twirl-O-Jacks have taught me just that," Ashleigh said. "Although we are known for grace, poise and style on the field, the organization has taught me how to handle life in the same manner. The Twirl-O-Jacks may be elite twirlers, but the organization has taught us how to be even better women."