It's hard to find anyone in Scorpion Country who's been there longer than Michelle Estrada.

Twenty-five years ago, Estrada, then known as Michelle Powell, was among the first wave of students to attend Hesperia High School in its first year of operation. The junior had previously attended 10th grade at Victor Valley High School in Victorville, and ninth grade at Hesperia Junior High School (then a 7th, 8th and 9th grade school).

"We were excited" to attend high school in Hesperia, "And the ones who were seniors were so mad [they had to stay in Victorville], because they wanted to come," she said.

Today, Estrada sits behind a considerably bigger desk, as Hesperia High School's Assistant Principal. But in 1986, she was captain of the cheerleading squad and had spent the summer practicing and watching Victor Valley Union High School District put the finishing touches on the new school.

"We were all so excited," she said. "It was going from having to leave your city to go to Victorville and getting to go back home."

That first year, the school didn't yet have an army of portable classrooms filling the back half of the campus.

"It couldn't have been more than 1,200 students" that first year, said Estrada.

Like many Victor Valley students, she dreamed of leaving the area after graduation. In her case, she planned on being a businesswoman in New York City.

"Then I got into calculus and said 'this is great, this is me. This is my fit. I want to teach math.'"

When the time came to decide where to settle down and raise a family, the choice seemed obvious to her.

"It sounds so sappy, but I love this place," she said, citing the school's "wonderful people, the staff and the students. ... There's a casualness to Hesperia that's not at other high schools."

Offered the chance to be a vice-principal at Hesperia High, she jumped at the opportunity.

The school has changed a lot since 1986.

"We didn't have fences, we didn't have a gate out front. We had a smoking section [for the students]," she said. "I'm not one of those who believes that the kids have changed. I can point out me in high school," walking around today's campus. (In fact, her youngest child is now a junior at Hesperia High.)

"The kids' today are texting in class. Well, in my day, we were passing notes in class."

The school had no alumni yet, and so the word came down that they couldn't have a "homecoming" until there were alumni to come home for the game. Instead, the school had a "house warming" game and crowned a Housewarming Queen.

"We fought that," Estrada said.

And the athletic program has gone from a group of juniors, sophomores and freshmen new to playing with each other to a powerhouse.

"We win now," Estrada laughed. "We were so small and we were so young."

Twenty-five years later, the former captain of the varsity cheerleading squad still feels right at home at the school she helped break in.

"I went to my 20-year reunion and someone asked 'where are you now?' 'Oh, I never left.'"

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Twitter at Twitter.com/HesperiaStar.