In the history of the National Football League, only 10 Alaskans have gone onto the field as players. A lot fewer have made the cut to be cheerleaders for an NFL team.
One who has is Kellie Covington of Anchorage, now in her third year with the Miami Dolphins. Covington is the captain of the "Wolf Pack" squad, named in honor of her home state's dominant canine predator.
"I run 10 girls on the sidelines," she said, supervising their performance and creating the group's choreographic routines. The 42-member cheerleading team has four captains and to be selected in her third year is "an honor," she said.
"On the other hand, I'm also the scapegoat, the one who has to answer when anything goes wrong."
Covington, 25, was born in Anchorage. Her father, Rodney Henderson, was a news anchorman on KIMO television and later sales manager at KTBY.
Kellie attended Rogers Park Elementary, Wendler Middle School and East High. A self-described tomboy, she didn't participate in cheerleading or organized sports, except for some track at Wendler and extra-curricular soccer. "I preferred snowboarding," she said.
The family moved to Slidell, La., in her junior year. She attended Florida International University in Miami and got into dance and sports. Covington helped compile statistics on college teams and started cheerleading. Friends urged her to try out for the Dolphins, but she resisted.
"I'm an outdoors girl. I like hunting and fishing. Putting me in a two-piece uniform with a lot of makeup is a little out of my league," she said. "But I finally got up the courage and tried out."
The cheerleaders practice three nights a week. "Basically it's a high cardio workout for three and a half hours," she said. "It gets a little easier later in the season when you get more familiar with what you're doing."
A big part of the job is public service work. "One of my favorites is 'Shopping with the 'Fins' at Thanksgiving. We take 50 or 60 underprivileged kids shopping for groceries. It's nice."
Other community events include backpack giveaways and clothes shopping events with similar children, reading programs, hospital and military events, fundraisers for cancer research and abused women's shelters and foreign trips.
"We went to Haiti three months after the earthquake. I've been to Honduras, Japan; we're going to Mexico at the end of the month. We really do go year-round."
For all that, it's still a part-time gig. Covington's day job is as a restaurant and recreation supervisor for Marriott International. ("An Alaska company!" she said, noting the connection with NANA Regional Corp.) "I run two bars, three swimming pools and oversee kids' activities and summer camps."
Of course, cheerleading is not a career that's likely to see you into retirement. After switching majors from journalism to education, Covington is now pursuing a degree in English, which she expects to complete this year.
"I'd like to teach English or history," she said. "Preferably in the upper grades. I did preschool for a year and got way too attached to the children. Older kids hate their teachers, so that works."
Beyond teaching, however, she has hopes of starting her own charity group. She's just begun working on the paperwork required to become a tax-exempt organization for orphans, foster kids and abandoned children.
"The idea is to mentor the kids, provide them with that sense of support they otherwise don't get, let them know they're not forgotten," she said.
Her other goal is to get back to Alaska to visit family. She's partial to coming up during the State Fair or at Christmas.
"I want to see either a giant turkey leg or a white Christmas," she said. "In Florida, people don't get it. It's 85 degrees. There's something unholy about palm trees with Christmas lights on them. It's not OK. Santa on an alligator is not OK."
Reach Mike Dunham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4332.
By MIKE DUNHAM
Anchorage Daily News