Forgive Carl Leonall if he can’t take his eyes off the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders on Thanksgiving Day at AT&T Stadium in Texas.
Leonall has been a Carolina Panthers fan since Day 1, though he’ll be a little discrete about it when the Panthers play the Cowboys at 4:30 p.m. It’s his youngest of three daughters, 22-year-old Amy, who he’ll be pulling for mostly.
She’s a rookie member of the renowned cheerleading squad.
Born and raised in Charlotte, Amy grew up a Panthers fan. “But once she made the squad and drank the Kool-Aid, she’s become a devoted Cowboys fan,” Carl said, waiting to board a plane Tuesday with daughter Sarah, 24. Oldest daughter Heather, 25, was driving to Dallas. His wife Charlene was already there.
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“She’s like Alice in Wonderland; it’s a fantasy land for her – so exciting. She loves the organization and her job.”
Amy, a graduate of Covenant Day School in Matthews, was never a cheerleader in school. Her parents first took her to Miller Street Dancing Academy when she was 18 months old. She danced there until she left for Oklahoma City University in Oklahoma, where in May she graduated with a fine arts degree in dance performance.
In 2010, she won the Miss Dance of North Carolina contest, and placed sixth in tap dancing in the national contest. She was the top female tap dancer.
Her ultimate goal is to dance in musicals on Broadway in New York, her father said.
For now, she’s a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader and instructs at two dance studios, teaching children and high school dancers and coaching routines to dance teams.
“Until she reaches her goal, the Cowboys Cheerleaders have provided the opportunity for her to try something new,” Leonall said. “It’s her first job out of college.”
The past two summers, she danced for the Mary Kay cosmetics convention at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas. Driving by AT&T Stadium this summer “she had the initial thought to try out for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders,” her father said.
“A gal in her class at school was trying out and encouraged her to do it.”
More than 500 women auditioned. The group was winnowed down to 48 at a boot camp, before Amy was included on the 32-member squad. She’s one of 14 rookies. Before the Cowboys’ first pre-season game, her family moved her to Dallas, and took a tour of the stadium that included the cheerleaders’ locker-room.
There, the Leonalls found a six-foot-tall photo of Amy over her locker. “It brought tears to my eyes,” Carl Leonall said.
Before he left for Dallas, his friends asked who he’d cheer for. He told them he loves the 10-0 team and a 11-0 team would look even better.
“But mostly I’ll be cheering for my daughter and the family will be together for Thanksgiving,” he said. “We’re real proud of her and she’s having the time of her life.”