As Ali Rimmel and Heidi Smith were walking around Walt Disney World in January as members of the Los Alamitos High School varsity cheerleading squad, a sudden wave of energy overcame them.
Moments later, fellow tourists gasped as Smith was sent flying through the air, and Rimmel cheered along with the squad as they launched into a spontaneous routine.
Their cheer routines were being honed for the Universal Cheer Assn.'s annual championships, but the Los Alamitos squad managed to turn every tourist attraction they visited into a showcase for their talents. From airports to the Hard Rock Cafe, members of the group would impulsively start cheering and throwing one another into the air.
Some crowds were so impressed that they threw money. The judges were so impressed, they awarded the squad eighth place against more than 40 other top teams.
Several months after the competition, Rimmel and Smith were strutting their stuff before a much tougher crowd than the tourists in Orlando. They were competing against 300 other women for 30 positions on the Rams' dance squad and 18 positions on the team's stunt squad.
As then-high school seniors, the two were going up against women whose ages averaged in the mid-20s. "It was intimidating," Rimmel said. "I didn't know what (the judges) were expecting."
Whatever the judges' expectations were, the girls met them, and they are the youngest members of their squads--Rimmel in dance and Smith in stunts.
Rey Lozano, who coaches the Rams' cheer squads, is also a coach for the Los Alamitos High School squad. The Rams recruited from Los Alamitos when they formed their stunt squad about five years ago.
"(Ali and Heidi will) have to remember that they will be in contact with and performing for adults," Lozano said. "They will have to be very mature to gain the respect of their audience."
Rimmel and Smith spent their summer vacation teaching cheer techniques at Universal Cheer Assn. camps throughout California.
They both recently enrolled at Cal State Long Beach, where they are the youngest members of the dance and cheer teams. Being "the babies" on the college and professional squads has been a big adjustment for the girls, after leading the high school teams.
"We're still so young, but we're expected to be so (mature)," Smith said. "It's a lot different than high school in that we're responsible for ourselves."
Rimmel said the change has been a shock to her system. "Last year, I was captain, so I was telling everyone what to do," she said. "Now, I'm so silent. I just want to do everything perfectly and impress people so that I don't get off on the wrong foot."
Rams cheerleaders practice three hours every Wednesday and Saturday, and their first performance was the Aug. 15 exhibition game against the Raiders at Anaheim Stadium.
"We walked out onto the field from the tunnel and saw . . . \o7 black\f7 . Raiders fans were everywhere!" Rimmel said. "But it wasn't really the crowd that was so shocking. It was more the fact that I'm a professional. I'm supposed to look and act so adult. It's like I'm playing dress-up or something."
Smith added: "It was exciting, like a big performance. I thought of it as 'Wow! What an honor to be performing on the Rams' field.' "
Nancy Smith, Heidi's mother, says she can relax more now that her daughter is being thrown into the air by professionals.
"Now it doesn't bother me at all," she said. "She's more secure being thrown by college-aged men; they're stronger boys. The high school boys dropped her quite a bit."
"It's a definite step-up in stunting," Heidi Smith said of cheering in college and for the Rams. "The older girls, who have more experience, do stunts that are totally amazing. I'm still learning."
One of the more frustrating aspects of cheering in the big leagues is adjusting to dealing with adults.
"The people on the squads are getting married, graduating from college, and so on. They're so experienced in the ways of the world," Rimmel said.
Despite some minor adjustments to their new positions as professional cheerleaders, both are enjoying the experience.
"It's a form of entertainment," Rimmel said. "It's been a lot of fun and a great experience."
Smith added: "It's something to tell our grandchildren. . . . I just hope the Rams do well."
Tricia Ginsburg, a senior at Los Alamitos High School, is a regular contributor to High Life.