After months of grueling rehearsals, fund-raisers and part-time jobs to pay for travel expenses, fame has come a second time to the Aliso Niguel High School Song Elite cheerleading squad.
Dancing to a combination of 1980s hits, retro rap tunes and L.L. Cool J, the 13-member team claimed first place in their division last week at the National Cheerleading Assn.'s National Danz championship at Sea World in San Antonio.
The squad of juniors and seniors also won the title last year.
But the trophy nearly passed before their eyes. Stephanie Page watched in horror as Caitlyn Whistler slipped and fell.
"I was scared and fell over too," said Page, 18.
"I think people thought we were supposed to do that," added coach Anne Davila.
Team captain Brenna Freedland, 18, placed 16th out of 300 cheerleaders as a soloist, and co-team captain Kelly Vernon was in the top 25%.
The cheerleaders fine-tune their rigorous routines for nine hours a week. By spring, they are rehearsing 12 hours a week in preparation for national competitions.
Winning first place was an emotional experience, they said.
"When we found out we won, a lot of us just collapsed," said Jaime Salverson, 17.
Now they are rehearsing for the USA Spirit National competition this weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Their accomplishments have required not only work but money.
Fund-raisers covered most of the $2,400 per-head cost for the Texas competition, but the girls' families also contributed.
"It's been hard, but our parents support us and we have all made sacrifices," Freedland said. "Our family members like grandparents and uncles and aunts have also contributed."