Imagine being invited to a house party where the star attractions are the Dallas Cowboys – and nobody will talk with you.
That’s what happened to the Lake Houston YMCA’s Deborah Rogers.
Most Lake Houston “Y” members know Deborah as the “healthy team lead” and “group exercise instructor.” When you walk into the Y’s workout area in the evenings, she’s the smiling, pleasant person you see sitting at the long desk right at the entrance.
That’s Deborah today, but back in the mid-1970s, Deborah was a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. She was “buds” with the likes of Drew Pearson, Thomas Henderson and the late, great Harvey Martin.
Deborah was thrilled one day when Martin asked her to come with him to a birthday party for fellow Cowboy Tony Dorsett at his home.
“Harvey was my ‘unofficial’ big brother,” Deborah recalled. “He took me under his wing. Watched out for me. I was so excited when he asked me to come to the party with him. I’d never been to one.”
It didn’t start out very well. Deborah recalled she couldn’t break the ice. None of the guys would talk with her.
“Finally I pulled one of the players over and point-blank asked him, ‘Why won’t anybody talk to me? What’s wrong with me?’” Deborah said.
“Harvey told us to leave you alone, not to bother you,” the player told her.
Harvey took his “big brother” role seriously.
Deborah became lifelong friends with Martin, who died recently, and she still keeps in touch with his daughter and grandson.
A couple of weeks ago, Deborah joined her fellow former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders at a reunion in Dallas.
“We began reunions 10 years ago,” Deborah said. “We started out small, but we’re growing with every reunion as we find more former cheerleaders.”
You can probably guess that those reunions are more than just simple get-togethers.
“We perform a routine at half-time, so we meet at Texas Stadium several days before the game to get our instructions and costumes, get briefed about our performance, get credentialed and start rehearsals,” Deborah said.
“Most of us are pretty rusty,” she admitted.
So, how does one become a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader?
Deborah, who grew up in Houston, confessed she “…never touched a pom-pom in high school.” She played violin in the high school orchestra.
Her encounter with cheerleading occurred while she was majoring in physical therapy in 1973 at Texas Women’s University in Denton. A former Kilgore Rangerette who already was a first-year cheerleader encouraged her to try out.
“I saw her at the dorm in uniform after a Cowboys game,” Deborah remembered. “It seemed like it would be fun.”
“Diane 'DD' Jones, who was an Ocean of Soul dancer, was a friend,” Deborah said. “She taught me a routine to present. They’re looking at your dancing ability and how quickly you catch on to the routine.”
Back in Houston, her sisters were “Oiler Blue,” but Deborah’s mom was excited and made sure Deborah got to practice.
“The year I tried out, 1974, I actually was not selected at first,” Deborah recalled. “I asked Ms. Dee Brock what I could do to improve so I could come back the next year and try out again. Ms. Dee said I was great but I was just a little too tall.”
Dee Brock had created the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and was their director from 1960 to 1975. She told Deborah to stand by Pam Davis, one of the taller women.
“Let me look,” Dee Brock said. “You know, I think you’ll be OK.”
Deborah was selected as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.
Because of her cheerleading days, Deborah has lifelong friends and incredible memories.
“Thomas Henderson and I stay in touch,” Deborah said, “and when I went back to the reunion in Dallas, my first stop was to visit Harvey Martin’s daughter and Harvey’s grandson.”
Deborah began her career with the “Y” in 2004 by teaching “Les Mills' Body Pump,” a choreographed weightlifting class, at the Downtown Y. She’s been at the Lake Houston Y for six years.
“I didn’t intend to work at the Y full time,” Deborah admitted, “but I loved it so I stayed.”
In addition to her work at the Y, Deborah has a passion for fighting pancreatic cancer.
Both Suzanne Mitchell, who took over as director in 1976 during Deborah’s last year as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, and “big brother” Martin died from pancreatic cancer.
“The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders last year participated in Purple Strides, the walk for pancreatic cancer in Dallas,” Deborah said. “I’ll be back there in November to participate in memory of Suzanne and Harvey.”
Deborah stays in touch with many of her fellow former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, so the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader Reunion was one busy time for her – reuniting with old friends and prepping for many special events.
“We were part of the State Fair of Texas Starlight Parade along with an honor dinner at AT&T Stadium,” Deborah said. “We were part of the halftime performance honoring Susan G. Komen for the Cure during the Cowboys-Bengal game. We had to be there to rehearse at 8:30 a.m. – six hours before the game.”
If you were watching, Deborah and her fellow alumnae were at the 50-yard line right behind the Cowboys' bench.
Mitchell, who died in September and is credited with crafting the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders into a pop culture sensation, was quoted in her New York Times obituary as saying “Little girls used to dream of being Miss America. Now they dream about becoming a cheerleader for the Cowboys.”
The Lake Houston YMCA’s Rogers got to live that dream.