The Hesperia Wildcats have been on the prowl for a year, and competitors are beginning to take notice.


Building the program from scratch, the Wildcats numbers were small. But by the end of their first season, the Wildcats' youth football and cheerleading programs had a total of 152 participants.


"It think it was a successful season," said Juan Ruiz, the program's head football coach.


While both programs have made their mark, it was the cheer squad that was the biggest surprise. Beginning with a squad of only 23, the cheerleading squad had just three participants with previous cheerleading experience. But at an area cheer competition during the beginning of the season the Wildcats girls took second place.


"After that competition they were ecstatic," he said.


That surprising showing enabled the cheerleaders to go to the Sharp International competition at Magic Mountain, where the Wildcats took third place. Then the cheerleaders, who are led by cheer coordinator Teresa Jeffers, were invited to compete against the best in the west at a competition in Las Vegas. Continuing their surprising ways, the Wildcats took 7th.


The cheerleaders' impressive first season has attracted others.


"Our numbers have doubled with cheerleaders."


But the girls aren't the only ones with something to cheer about. Despite a large amount of first-time competitors, two of the Wildcat's five football teams made the first round of playoffs.


"This year we're an established league. We're building a tradition. We keep going forward."


Both the football and cheer program seasons run August through December, but cheer competitions can extend even further.


"Cheer can go on all-year long."


According to Ruiz, the Wildcats program was started because local parents felt there was a need for another youth football and cheer programs. He cited the Hesperia Unified School District's more than 20,000 students as an example of the need.


"There are plenty of kids out there."


Ruiz compliments the Hesperia Trojans football and cheer program, which has been in operation longer than the Wildcats.


"The Trojans have done a good job," he said.


However, the Wildcats football program is less expensive and offers an extended weight limit for some of their divisions, which allows more players to get off the bench and onto the field.


"Kids are a lot bigger. We want to give them a chance to play so those heavy-set kids have a chance to play with their age group."


Practice for the 2010 season begins on Aug. 2. Meanwhile Ruiz and other Wildcats boosters are spreading the word.


"We're getting the Wildcat name out there, and we're always looking for sponsors. We are here for the kids."


The cost is $165 per player. Players get to use the equipment (helmet and pads), and they get to keep their game jerseys.


"Fundraisers help offset the cost," Ruiz said. "We understand people are being laid off. We have a payment plan. We help the people."


Games are played at Hesperia High, which is a real bonus, he added.


"I'm thankful for Hesperia High School helping us out. What better feeling for 6-, 7-, 8-year-old players playing in this beautiful stadium."


A product of Hesperia, Ruiz attended Hesperia Junior High then Hesperia High for two years before transferring to Sultana High School. There, he played center and linebacker on the Sultana football team coached by Pete Delagardelle, graduating in 1997. Currently, Ruiz is an employee of the Fontana Water District.


A meet-and-greet event will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on June 26 on Hesperia Lakes.


"If someone is interested in the Wildcats, come out out."


The next sign up will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on July 31 at Pizza Factory in Hesperia.


And a football camp will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on July 10 at Hesperia High School. Cost is $20. The previous camp attracted 75 participants.


"We want to give the kids the most. If we can afford to have a kid have a blast it's worth it. Some kids said, 'This is the most fun we ever had.' That did it for us."


The Wildcats also have started a special tradition at the end of the practice on the Thursday before every game a pep rally that includes talks by special guests such as local firefighters, police officers and football players.


"Our biggest thing is just helping out the kids," Ruiz said. "Getting the opportunity to give back to the kids is just awesome."