Alexandra “Alex” Hill was 5 when she started going to Huntington Beach High School’s Lil’ Oilers summer cheer camp.
With orange ribbons in her hair and orange and black pompoms in hand, she would go home from the camp and excitedly practice all the cheers for hours. It was great being with the big cheerleaders, she said. But the best part was getting a chance to cheer alongside them during a varsity football game.
The stadium was big and noisy, but she learned about cheering, teamwork and spirit from the cheerleaders as they pumped up the crowds. For the next four summers, she would stand atop the cheer boxes again and again to rally the Oilers to action.
“Ever since then, I knew I wanted to be a cheerleader in high school,” Alex said. “That was my goal my entire life.”
Eleven years after her first experience, Alex, an incoming senior and varsity cheerleader at Huntington Beach High, will look out at the crowd at every varsity game from her cheer box. And she hopes that come the first game of the 2019-20 school year, children of Orange County military families will be at her side cheering on her team.
As part of her project for a Gold Award — the most prestigious award given by the Girl Scouts — Alex planned and organized an eight-week cheerleading camp called “Cheer on America” at the North Seal Beach Community Center for children of military families as part of her ongoing focus on the military.
High school-age Girl Scouts tackle issues ranging from ocean pollution to community matters and are tasked with developing a plan of action.
Last year, the organization’s Orange County chapter bestowed 107 Gold Awards to Girl Scout seniors and ambassadors, said Elizabeth Fairchild, a spokeswoman for Girl Scouts of Orange County.
“The project can be pretty much any area that the Girl Scout is passionate,” Fairchild said. “What’s key is that she looks at it not only as a one-time service but looks for the root of the problem and how can she take action to make a lasting change in that area.”
Alex said the military has always been important in her work as a Girl Scout because of her grandfather.
“My grandpa was in World War II and he was injured in it and it always affected the family life,” she said. “But he always stayed positive, and because of that, I wanted to cherish his memory in the military. ...
“So when I was younger selling Girl Scout cookies, I always made extra efforts to emphasize donating to the military and ... for every box I sold, I would donate to a military organization. I wanted to continue that path with my Gold Award because I’ve worked so hard in the past trying to emphasize the military.”
She said many military children have trouble with social interaction because “they’re always moving around.”
She wanted to make her cheerleading camp “a happy and enjoyable space where they could feel free to express themselves,” she said. “I taught them different patriotic cheers and dances and taught them games, just to make it an enjoyable experience but also to teach them health benefits and exercise and healthy eating while still incorporating pride for the United States.”
The hour-long classes were held on Saturdays starting May 11. Alex said she chose to have them in Seal Beach because of its proximity to the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station and the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base. Her students came from the same military housing units but were shy in the beginning, she said. But as they got more comfortable, they became more excited and vocal.
“Just from my experience from the outside looking in at it, I knew it’d be a great idea to have the military families there with their kids have something to do here, because not all of them are necessarily from [Seal Beach] and are just based out here and live out here in naval housing,” said David Nett, community services coordinator for the city of Seal Beach.
“I went out to her first class and saw the families,” Nett said. “Usually you get families that come in from other classes and they get nervous because they’re not sure what to expect, but all of them came in with big smiles on their faces. It is a class-by-class thing. You don’t know if they’ll come back. But a lot of them came back and talked about how they enjoyed it.”
Vikki Shepp, chief executive of Girl Scouts of Orange County, said in a statement that she’s “proud that [Alex] is serving her community and our nation while honoring the legacy of her grandfather.”
“In addition to building confidence, I know her project will build engaged and healthy citizens and the benefits of her work will continue to be felt long after her project is complete,” Shepp said.
Though Alex feels she underestimated the amount of work needed to teach the classes, she said she could see herself doing them again. She felt the program motivated her to be more involved with the military community and to be a cheer instructor in general.
She’d like to expand it to holidays — like the Fourth of July — and to April, the Month of the Military Child.
She said Thursday that she had raised about $2,000 for her project through Girl Scout cookie sales, babysitting and clothing sales on eBay.
She said that she, along with her high school cheer instructor, Gianine Ruziecki, will help contribute to costs for her students to attend the same Lil’ Oilers camp that she went to as a child.
“Just based off of the experience of the kids that I saw in my class, maybe they didn’t know a lot about cheer, but afterward they got excited about it and wanted to continue it,” Alex said. “I think that in a larger atmosphere with a bunch more kids, I think that it’d be good for them.”