By Donna Cornelius
Heather Foster is no stranger to a football-crazy atmosphere.
She’s a graduate of two schools that, to put it mildly, are passionate about the sport: Vestavia Hills High School and the University of Alabama.
Now, Heather is experiencing football fandom on a different level. She’s cheering for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.
Her mother, Mary Foster, said Heather has an extensive dance background.
“Heather has danced since she was five years old at Dale Serrano Studios and danced competitively with Encore Studio even while she was a member of the dance team at Pizitz Middle School and then later as a Rebelette at Vestavia Hills High School,” said Mary. “She loves to dance.”
During those experiences, Heather often performed before crowds. But her first time on the sidelines at LP Field in Nashville was a whole new ballgame. The stadium seats some 69,000.
“I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for what it was actually going to feel like,” she said. “You don’t realize how big the field is until you’re out there.”
Becoming a Titans cheerleader fulfilled a goal Heather set for herself while she was still in high school.
“I knew then that I wanted to be part of an NFL organization,” she said. “I looked at Nashville and Dallas. I had family in Nashville and had visited friends there, and I could see myself having a life there and being happy.”
At Alabama, Heather majored in public relations and said she loved being a member of Phi Mu sorority. Shortly after graduating from UA in the spring of 2011, she vied for a spot on the Titans cheerleading team.
“It was a crazy fiasco,” she said of the experience. Tryouts were held shortly after Tuscaloosa was devastated by the April 27 tornado, which interrupted the final weeks of the school year. Heather, like many other UA students, was still somewhat shell-shocked by the disaster.
“I left Tuscaloosa in a hurry to go to Nashville and try out,” she said. “I made it to the finals but got cut.”
Undaunted, Heather tried again in April of this year. The tryout process lasted more than two weeks, she said.
“I made about six trips from Birmingham to Nashville,” she said. “I was working full time in Birmingham but had to go to all the practices.”
In mid-May, Heather got good news: She’d made the team.
“I had to pack my bags and move right away,” she said.
She landed an inside sales job in Nashville and quickly “fell in love with the cheerleading coach, the team and the Titans organization,” she said.
Balancing her job and her cheerleading responsibilities can be a challenge, but Heather loves what she’s doing.
“We practice a lot,” she said. “In June, we had training camp. We practiced Tuesday through Friday nights and Saturday mornings.”
Titans cheerleaders also have to pass a fitness test and a written exam testing their knowledge of subjects ranging from history to football, she said.
During the summer, said Heather, the team practiced three days a week. During the season, it’s a two-day regimen.
The 27 cheerleaders perform at all Titan home games – but they’re more than just Sunday afternoon entertainers.
“We each do two or three charity events per month,” Heather said. “It’s important to us. We don’t get to talk to fans on game days, and at these events, it’s fun to do that, especially to talk to kids.
“And for me, it’s a great way to get involved in my community.”
One charity function Heather eagerly signed up for was the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night Walk.
“I was the first to volunteer for that,” Heather said. That’s because she has a personal connection to the cause. Her uncle, she said, is a survivor of multiple myeloma.
On game days, Titans cheerleaders are expected to arrive at the stadium four hours before kickoff, Heather said.
“That’s usually at noon,” she said. “We practice and mark off the field for our routines. We have a wonderful hair and makeup team, and it takes a while for them to get all of us ready.”
Most of the team’s performances are “dancing, not cheering,” Heather said, adding that about half the team is made up of former dance team members and half of former cheerleaders.
While the women have several different uniforms, Heather is looking forward to the Titans’ Oct. 28 game against the Indianapolis Colts. Since the game is close to Halloween, the cheerleaders will exchange their usual outfits for costumes.
“I’m trying to decide if I’m going to be Wonder Woman or a hippie,” Heather said.
Her parents, Greg and Mary Foster of Vestavia Hills, have already been to Nashville to see their daughter in action. Also cheering proudly in the stands have been Heather’s sisters Meredith, Carlin and Carlin’s husband Josh.
“We are so very proud that Heather continued to pursue her dream,” said Mary. “Her determination and the sacrifices she was willing to make to reach that goal will serve her well all her life.”
Mary said she and Greg have been “impressed with the Titan cheerleader squad and their director, Stacie Kinder. Stacie runs an excellent program, and we could not be more proud of Heather for being a part of this great group of young women.”
“When we watch her cheer as a member of the NFL cheerleaders working with the Tennessee Titans’ great organization, we see in her happy face the reality that when you dream big and work hard to make those big dreams come true, you can accomplish anything,” Mary said.
The Fosters are looking forward to their next road trip to Nashville for the Titans-Colts game.
Another loyal fan is Heather’s boyfriend, Ryan Kinder. The Hoover High School graduate hasn’t missed a single game or performance, Heather said.
Although this season still has weeks to go, Heather hopes to keep cheering for the Titans beyond this year.
“Absolutely I’ll try out again,” she said. “Everyone has been very nice and very accepting.”
According to cheerleading director Stacie Kinder, Heather has already been a hit in her new role.
“Heather is an excellent addition to the 2012 Tennessee Titans cheerleaders,” Stacie said. “She is beautiful inside and out and brings with her a positive attitude and excellent dance ability.
“ I hope this is the first of many years she has with the Titans. She’s already a fan favorite.”