When freshman Belle Natalie Vance proudly took the field on Aug. 30, she became the third generation in her family to wear the black and gold of the Apache Belles.
Vance followed in the footsteps of her mother, Melanie Vance, and grandmother, Carolyn “Sue” York.
“It’s a big deal, even though I don’t make a big deal out of it,” Natalie said. “It’s cool to say you’re a third generation Belle.”
In 1953, York was a member of the Apache Belles, when the Belles were under the direction of Al Gilliam. York fondly remembers her time as a Belle. She said the memory she is most fond of was a trip to Milwaukee for VFW week. During the trip they marched in the parade to celebrate the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Even back in the 1950s, the Belles were one of the best drill teams in the country.
“We brought back first parade honors,” York said.
Twenty-one years later, Tyler Junior College was looking for someone to take the Belles in a new direction while York’s daughter, Melanie, was debating whether to be a Belle like her mom. TJC chose Ruth Flynn to be the new director of the Apache Belles, which made Melanie decide to become a Belle.
“When I found out [Flynn] was coming over from Kilgore, that’s when I decided to try out,” Melanie said.
Melanie tried out and made the Belles and continued the family tradition started by York.
“I was real proud,” York said. “Real excited!”
As part of Flynn’s first group of Belles, Melanie helped to build a programthat has grown in notoriety over the past 25 years. Her favorite memory from her time as an Apache Belle was performing at Texas Stadium in Irving at Dallas Cowboys games.
“It was exciting walking out onto the field and performing,” Melanie said. “I’m a huge Cowboys fan. I really liked being in the stadium. “
When TJC played Independence Community College Kansas at Eagle Stadium in Lindale, Sue York and Melanie Vance were in the stands to cheer on their alma mater but also to see the third generation of their family take the field wearing an Apache Belle uniform. Melanie was proud of her daughter.
“It was really exciting,” Melanie said. “It didn’t really hit me that she was a third generation until we were doing the ‘RIM’ together at homecoming.”
At homecoming on Sept. 27, Melanie was excited to get to perform with her daughter before the game. The ‘RIM’ is the traditional entrance march for the Apache Belles. This is the only tradition that has survived the decades and spanned all three generations. The only disappointment of the day was York not getting to participate due to health reasons.
“Mom couldn’t do it, but Natalie and I did it,” said Melanie. “I was kind of teary-eyed. She was doing things I was doing so many years ago.”
The celebrations and joy of having three generations of Belles in their family almost didn’t happen. Like her mother before her, Natalie decided at the last minute to try out for the Apache Belles.
“She kept telling me her whole senior year “Mom, I’m not trying out. Quit talking about it,” Melanie said. “And then, last minute, she decided to try out.”
Natalie and Melanie credited Sara Ormsby as the reason Natalie tried out for the Belles. Ormsby was Natalie’s high school drill instructor.
“[Ormsby] convinced her,” Melanie said. “She told Natalie ‘you’re already going to TJC, you ought to try out. You would be third generation.'”
Melanie said that Natalie didn’t have much choice in the matter. She said Natalie was destined to become a Belle.
“I have a picture of Natalie wearing a t-shirt that read ‘Future Apache Belle,'” Melanie said. “Her future was already determined.”
Natalie hopes that her family legacy doesn’t end with her.
“If I have a daughter, I want her to go to [Robert E. Lee] and be on the drill team,” Natalie said. “And if she goes to TJC, I would like her to be a Belle.”