Written by: 
Meredith Moriak Wright
Photography by: 
Michael Clements

hen Kelli McGonagill Finglass ('89) isn't leading dance rehearsals and business meetings, coordinating appearance calendars and travel, or reviewing rough cuts of a CMT reality TV show, she's sharing wisdom with the 30-plus women who make up the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Each facet of the group, often lauded as "America's sweethearts," passes across Finglass' desk. She took the job of director and business manager — which includes helping to choose each year's members — in 1991 after five years of cheering on the squad. She knows the rigor of the process.

Each May, more than 600 women audition for a coveted spot on the team and Finglass says that having to tell 95 percent of them that this won't be the year their dream comes true is very difficult.

"My role is kind of like being room mom. But it's not always cheer, cheer, cheer," she says. "I'm also the one disappointing people and that is very heavy for me. I know how fragile young people can be."

A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Finglass has always worked hard. After her first year as a Cowboys cheerleader in 1984, she enrolled in UNT's College of Business to study marketing. Each day for four years, she drove to Denton from Valley Ranch for 8 a.m. classes, worked an afternoon job in Lewisville and then headed to the dance studio for a full evening of rehearsals.

"Because I've traveled worldwide on 18 USO tours, this little girl from Lindale saw a much bigger world than East Texas," Finglass says. "A tour to South Korea and chance to learn about manufacturing got me interested in international marketing."

She credits former marketing professor Krishna Erramilli and Gopala Ganesh, current University Distinguished Teaching Professor of marketing, for stimulating her brain and her interest in the field.

"They taught me how a product goes from an idea to the store shelf, and how you reach the consumer," she says.

After graduating in December 1989, Finglass was set to work in the international sales department at UPS, but the opportunity to be the assistant director of the cheerleaders arose.

"DCC is my heart and in my blood. Out of passion, I took the job," says Finglass, whose challenge once she was promoted to director was to make the squad profitable, rather than a public relations expense.

Using her marketing knowhow, she found ways to monetize skills the cheerleaders already possessed. She introduced for-profit dance and cheerleading camps and competitions, established a paid corporate appearance program and launched a swimsuit calendar followed by a TV special about its making.

One of the brand's biggest breaks came in 2005 when reality TV producers asked about chronicling the audition process.

"At that time, it seemed like every reality show was catfights and hot tub scenes, but I felt like the audition angle was something that might work," Finglass says of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team. The 12th season premieres Aug. 3.

"I want people to see how impressive the cheerleaders are in every dimension — how smart and talented they are, the strength of the team and the friendships. We have pre-med students, writers, lawyers," she says. "These are women with careers, not just gameday entertainers."

Kelli McGonagill Finglass ('89)
Coppell, TX

Becoming a Cowboys cheerleader:
I graduated from Lindale High School in 1983 and had an academic scholarship to Texas Christian University. I studied dance, rushed a sorority and spent my freshman year going to every dance audition I could because all experience was good experience. I heard a radio commercial about the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders auditions in spring 1984 and decided to try out for the experience. I ended up making the squad but felt it would be too difficult to travel between Fort Worth and Dallas each week so I got a roommate and an apartment in Dallas. I worked as a secretary in downtown Dallas during my first season on the squad before deciding I wanted my degree and applied to UNT.

Selection process:
Recent experience helping my daughter navigate the college admissions, scholarship and sorority recruitment process has caused me to look at DCC applications in a different light. When I read that someone has a scholarship or is on the dean's list, it means more to me. When I see a girl who was selected into a sorority or leadership position, I know she has team-like energy and has been through a rigorous selection process.

Job perk:
I get to watch relationships grow among squad members. We're very close and I always tell the girls in auditions that strangers become bridesmaids. This organization brings women from different backgrounds together and they ultimately become family members.

Staying organized:
On "Make it Happen Monday," I focus on completing something I've procrastinated about. Staff meetings and finding ways to help my colleagues take precedence on "Teamwork Tuesday." Bit by bit, I tackle long-term and visionary projects on "World Class Wednesday" and use time on "Thoughtful Thursday" to send cards, flowers and thank yous. I then try to complete pending tasks on "Follow-Up Friday" so I can enjoy "Slow Down Saturday" and "Spiritual Sunday" with my family on weekends that the Cowboys aren't playing at AT&T Stadium.

Role models:
My fear when we started filming Making the Team was that people would think we were too critical. I've been very pleased by the number of moms who tell me they watch the show with their daughters and use it to reinforce how a young woman should conduct herself. The positive feedback from other women means more to me than any paycheck could.

UNT connections:
UNT System Chancellor Lee Jackson was one of our original co-ed Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Our squad started in 1961 with a county-wide tryout for high school cheerleaders.