Vicksburg native earns spot on Houston Texans’ cheer squad

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 5, 2008

As Stacy Hester stood in the tunnel at Houston’s Reliant Stadium, awaiting her cue to emerge, a million thoughts raced through her head.

What dance steps go with what routine? Is my costume all right? Do I look good?

Mostly, though, one simple word kept coming back into the mind of the rookie Houston Texans cheerleader.

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“I was freaking out. To perform in Reliant Stadium, which holds more than 70,000 fans, it’s kind of like a deer in the headlights,” Hester said with a laugh. “It’s a phenomenal feeling. That first time, I was nervous. It was definitely scary.”

When Hester walked out of the tunnel for the Aug. 9 preseason game between the Texans and Denver Broncos, it was the culmination of years of hard work and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

The Vicksburg native started dancing when she was 5, at Ms. Atwater’s School of Dance. The family moved to Houston a few years later, in 1993. Hester’s grandparents, Hazel Bell, Marie and Doug Hester Sr., still live in Vicksburg. Her other grandfather, Henry Bell, has since passed away.

After moving to Houston, Stacy Hester continued to show an interest in dancing, She attended several schools for the performing arts, including one in New York.

“As a mother, you put your little girls in dance. And she just ate it up,” said Stacy’s mother, Emily Hester.

Eventually, Stacy turned her attention to cheerleading. She was the captain of the squad at Houston’s Madison High School — the same high school Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young starred at — and made the squad at Lamar University. All the while, she kept an eye on the NFL.

In 2004, as an 18-year-old fresh out of high school, she tried out for the Texans’ squad. As the hours passed, and the original group of nearly 1,000 women was whittled down to about 100, Stacy was still among them. She made it to the final round of cuts before dropping out.

“It hurt my feelings. But I was only 18, so I remained positive. I figured maybe I was too young,” Hester said.

Disappointed, but not broken, Stacy went on to Lamar and excelled on the school’s football and basketball cheerleading and dance teams. She also took another stab at the pro ranks, trying out for the NBA’s Houston Rockets in 2006. By choice, she didn’t stick around long. Her status as a full-time student would have eventually disqualified her anyway, but the basketball team’s dance-heavy style also turned her off. She preferred football cheerleading, which is more a mix of dance and traditional routines.

“They have more games than us. Every team has a different style. I looked at the coach and the team, and the camaraderie, and it just took the fun out of it for me,” Hester said. “It just didn’t feel right. I left after the second round and didn’t even think about it. It was the best decision I ever made.”

Hester graduated from Lamar this spring with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, and took a job with a television station in Houston. In April, four years after her first go-round, she decided to try out for the Texans again.

Nearly 1,000 women turned out again for the auditions, with 34 eventually making the cut. Hester’s earlier experience with the tryouts helped her breeze through the early rounds.

“The first time I went in when I was 18, it was intimidating. I didn’t know I was supposed to have a costume or anything. I was just there in sweats,” Hester said with a laugh. “I was prepared for four years. My mom made a costume, I had boots, everything.”

After the first cuts were made the second and third rounds focused on different routines and dance styles. A crew from Fox Sports Net followed Hester through the process for a TV special, ratcheting up the pressure.

“It’s kind of cool,” she said. “These people are following me around and you don’t know if you’re going to make it or not.”

Hester made it to the final round of cuts again, but this time the story had a happy ending. She made the squad.

And even before she walked onto the field at Reliant Stadium for the first time, Hester was already taking her first steps into a bigger world. She was asked to model for the Texans Cheerleaders swimsuit calendar, and has stayed busy making appearances for the team, as well as practicing for the season. The squad practices 20 to 25 hours a week. The team also requires its cheerleaders to have a full-time job or be a full-time student.

The money is OK — “It’s good for our maintenance, and it’s good for gas,” Hester said — but the chance to live out her childhood dream meant even more.

“Every day I wake up, and I have posters framed already, and it’s like, ‘Wow, it’s me,’” she said. “People go bananas over this. It keeps me humbled. I’m always like, ‘I’m still Stacy.’ I’ve been a cheerleader for so long, it’s the same thing I’ve always done. I’m just a cheerleader on a different level now.”

While she’s enjoying her status among the cheerleading elite, Hester doesn’t plan on doing it forever. She’ll try out again next season — the audition process begins anew for everyone, veterand and rookies, each spring —  but doesn’t see herself dancing along the sidelines more than a few years. Her future, she said, is in broadcasting and she hopes to focus on that career, which will likely take her away from Houston and the Texans.

“I see myself doing it for three years at the max. A season is so much work,” she said. “That’s another dream, to be in TV reporting. Journalism is my passion, too, and I know I’m going to have to move to a small town and work my way up.”