Joyce Eaton Pennington ('72) arrived on the North Texas campus for Freshman Orientation on a bright sunny day as an undecided major. Her best friend, Eddie Lou Judge, who was on the Haltom High School drill team with Pennington, encouraged her to choose physical education as a major, as she had.
"P.E. has shorter registration lines," Judge told her. "We will be out in an hour and we can go to the lake."
So Pennington followed suit and majored in P.E., which included dance classes (the only dance program at the time). That fateful decision put her on a path to becoming a high school dance team teacher and the originator of the NBA Dallas Mavericks Dancers, which she served as director for five years.
Now she's the president and chief executive officer of American Dance/Drill Team, one of the most prominent drill team education companies in the nation. The Salado company hosts camps and clinics and a yearly competition at UNT.
"Not everybody goes into college with a perfect game plan, but I'm glad I had so much support and fabulous professors," says Pennington, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas Dance/Educators Association in 1995 and was inducted into the Texas Drill Team Hall of Fame in 2000.
At her first year at UNT, Pennington says she and others interested in dance found help and camaraderie with their P.E. classmates who were more focused on sports.
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"I said, 'Look, next year you have to take folk dance and modern dance. If you help us learn basketball and volleyball, we'll help you with dance," she says.
The deal worked. Instructors Jean Pekara and Nancye Hood had been concerned she would have trouble making it through the program because she was not a high school athlete and had not competed in sports. But they told her she proved them wrong.
"They let me know I defied the odds," she says. "It meant a lot to me."
After she graduated, Pennington, who minored in English, went on to teach English and then P.E. and dance for 10 years -- first in the Denison ISD, where she met her husband, C.R. Pennington, and then in the Garland ISD.
As a drill team instructor for those schools, she took her students to camps run by the American Dance/Drill Team. The company works with schools, colleges, dance studios and other organizations to fine-tune drill team dancing, known for its precision dance and high kicks. In 1977, she became an instructor for the organization. Four years later, the company offered her a spot as executive vice president.
"It was a very difficult decision for me to take on an executive role because I loved teaching," she says. "But this was a once in a lifetime opportunity."
In 1984, she and her husband, who worked in the clothing industry, bought the company. Now their two sons and granddaughter work for them and they have 150 contract employees nationwide who conduct dance team workshops, summer camps and judge competitions.
The highlight of the year is the spring national/international competition that brings teams from as far away as Australia, Japan and South Africa to UNT -- and brings Pennington back to campus.
"I wake up every morning realizing how lucky I am to have a job in such an incredible field," she says.