Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Gridiron Girl 

Posted by James at 6:00 AM ET

Templeton High grad Heather Greene is a college student during the week, but on weekends she dances in front of 60,000 football fans as a cheerleader with the San Diego Charger Girls

By Sarah Linn

As the national anthem rang through Qualcomm Stadium before the San Diego Chargers’ first preseason game, Templeton native Heather Greene’s knees started shaking.

Greene’s anxiety wasn’t surprising. After all, the Aug. 12 bout versus the Seattle Seahawks marked her on-field debut as an NFL Cheerleader.

“When I ran out of the tunnel for the first game and saw 60,000 people, I was very nervous,” Greene admitted. “Once we did our first dance routine, I was fine.”

The 20-year-old Templeton High School grad beat out hundreds of other girls in March to win a spot on the San Diego Chargers’ cheerleading squad, known as the Charger Girls.

Since then, she’s performed and signed autographs at charity events, escorted Chargers head coach Norv Turner at a kickoff dinner, and even posed for the Charger Girls calendar, in stores this month. (She’s pictured, bikini-clad, on a brick staircase.)

A lifelong dancer, Greene said being a Charger Girl means a new professional career — and 27 new friends.

“I love it. I just love having this family, this group of girls,” she said.

A love of dancing

According to her mother, Heather Greene is a dancer at heart.

“She’s always been a perfectionist with anything she’s done,” said Tammy Greene of Templeton. She and her husband, Roger, work at their family business, Ingram& Greene Sanitation in Atascadero.

The athletic blonde with the big smile started dancing at age 3, enrolling at Class Act Dance & Performing Arts Studio in Paso Robles. As a senior, she became captain of her Templeton High School dance team.

“She was always the bright spot on stage. You could always pick her out of a crowd,” said Class Act co-owner June Greenawalt, who taught Greene at the dance studio and directed the high school dance team.

Greenawalt described the young dancer as a sweet, skilled girl who excelled at choreography.

Greene spent three years teaching jazz, tap, ballet and hip hop to students aged 3 to 16, and Greenawalt remembers the care with which she found matching dolls for a dance number and crafted chimneys for a “Mary Poppins” routine.

“She put a lot of thought into everything she did,” Greenawalt said. “You could tell that she really loved what she was doing.”

Athletic and energetic

At 5-foot-7 and 130 pounds, Greene said she’s always considered herself athletic.

“I have so much energy, I have to always be moving,” she said.

After graduating from Templeton High in 2005, she moved to San Diego to room with her best friend.

Lacking previous cheerleading experience, Greene said she hesitated when a friend suggested that she try out for the Charger Girls. Turns out, NFL’s cheerleaders are far removed from the varsity squad.

“Professional cheerleading is dancers holding pompoms. We don’t do any cheers or yelling,” Greene said. “We get the crowd pumped out.”

Her first attempt to join the team in 2006 was chronicled on a reality show, “NFL Cheerleaders Making the Squad: San Diego Chargers.” The brutal three-day audition process includes a group dance number, interviews and individual routines.

Even past cheerleaders must try out every year.

“The cameras kept following me around and asking me questions, so it kind of got my hopes up,” Greene recalled.

When she didn’t make the squad, she hit the gym every day in preparation for the next year’s tryouts. “I was so determined that I pretty much told myself I was going to make it, and it worked,” she said.

About 430 women showed up for the Charger Girl auditions this spring. Only 28 made the squad.

On the sideline

Greene’s on-field performance was in August, with her parents and 17-year-old brother, Justin, watching their first professional football game from the front row.

“I knew she was glad to be down there and not up in the stands. That’s where she wanted to be,” Tammy Greene said.

The dancer now feels comfortable in her blue-and-white uniform. As unofficial team ambassadors, Charger Girls follow a vigorous schedule: charity events, photo shoots and autograph sessions followed by daylong practices and football games.

“You have to be in great shape just to make it through a game,” Greene said. “I don’t think people realize how hard it is… Some people get tired just watching a football game. Imagine being out in the sun, dancing.”

San Diego Charger Girls

In addition to cheerleading for the Chargers, Greene is studying at San Diego Mesa College — with hopes of becoming a National Geographic photographer — and working part-time in retail.

A consistent look

She’s also bound by contract to maintain her “look.” That means plenty of trips to the team-sponsored hair and nail salon, makeup sessions and a well-used gym membership.

“My look is long, blonde curly hair,” explained Greene. “If I show up to a game with straight hair, I get in trouble. If I make an appearance with straight hair, I get in trouble.”

On the plus side, “I’ve gotten really good at curling my hair,” she said with a laugh.

Her biggest challenge has been speaking in public, she said, adding that all Charger Girls spend eight weeks honing their skills from Toastmasters International.

“We have cameras coming up to us all the time, and we have to answer questions on our feet,” Greene said.

Greene isn’t the only North County native turned Charger Girl.

Atascadero native Erin Kennedy joined the Chargers’ cheerleading squad in April 2001. She’s the daughter of Barb and Kevin Kennedy, owners of Kennedy Club Fitness.

Greene said she hopes to stay with the Charger Girls for a few more years.

She’s already gained fans. The Chargers’ Gameday magazine featured a profile of the Templeton native in its “Charger Girl Spotlight” this year.

The dancer is surprised by her newfound celebrity.

“Especially here in Mission Valley, where there’s Qualcomm Stadium, people will know your name,” she said. “I remember the first time someone asked for my autograph… I looked around to see if there was someone famous standing behind me.”

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