French Dukes reunite with Pioneer for NAAPID celebration

Calvin Ross and Kenneth Mitchell of the French Dukes Drill team.
Calvin Ross and Kenneth Mitchell of the French Dukes Drill team on Feb. 12 at Pioneer High School. 

By Tara Cavanaugh

The French Dukes drill team, which won dozens of national and state-level championships after its inception in the sixties, visited the school where it all began on Tuesday.

The Dukes performed at Pioneer High School’s celebration of National African American Parent Involvement Day. NAAPID is usually marked the first Monday of February, but the performance was moved after the snow day on Monday.

The Dukes performed with just two members, but the audience was still wowed by their talent and precision.

One of the performers was Kenneth Mitchell, whose older brother was a founding member.

“It taught us discipline, built up our self-esteem, gave us something to be proud of and a sense of community,” Mitchell said about his early days with the team. Mitchell is now the Dukes’ executive officer.

“We loved getting together,” Mitchell added. “Everybody had rank, and it was a matter of earning your way up.” He pointed to a pin on his collar. “I’m up to six stripes and a star in the middle. Everyone starts off with one stripe.”

Calvin Ross, who earned his way up to becoming the Dukes’ commander, recalled winning dozens of national and state-level titles. The team went undefeated for 20 years in a row.

Ross and Mitchell are planning a recruitment campaign in the spring or summer.

“We’re trying to drill ourselves out of our positions–– literally!” Mitchell joked, adding that he and Ross are in their early 60s. “We want them to replace us.”

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