After cheering for her brother, who was quarterback of the Los Altos High football team at the time, 6-year-old Anneli Rullo knew she wanted to be a cheerleader.
“We bought her a little uniform, and the next thing I knew, she was on the sidelines,” said Anneli’s father, Robert Rullo. “She talked about it all summer and was relentless.”
Anneli’s dream came true this year as a junior at Mountain View High School.
But she didn’t take the usual path to becoming a cheerleader for the Spartans. Anneli was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth. Robert said Anneli was born with major cardiac defects that required surgery at Stanford Hospital.
None of that stopped her from leading a normal life, according to Robert. Growing up in Los Altos with Robert, mom Anne and older siblings Stephanie, Joanna and Richard, Anneli attended Loyola and Blach Intermediate schools. In eighth grade, she received the Blach Teachers Award, given to a student who shows inner strength and determination despite adversity.
Now 17, Anneli is in a special-needs class at Mountain View High, but she is mainstreamed for weight-training and dance classes.
And cheerleading, of course.
Anneli’s ascension to the cheer squad began with help from teacher Diane Esparza, who “knows her better than anyone,” Robert said. Esparza approached Principal David Grissom who, along with Superintendent Jeff Harding, jumped onboard with the idea.
Robert said the process of getting Anneli on the varsity cheer squad “was a team effort” and couldn’t have been done without the “gracious and understanding girls” on the team.
“(They) included her in helping with the cheers and just embraced the whole concept of having someone just a little different be a part of the rally team,” he said. “The girls on the squad went out of their way to make her feel accepted, and it was a beautiful thing to see.”
Anneli joined the team in August. She cheered at every football game this season – home and away.
“Having Anneli on the team this year has been an amazing experience for the team,” cheer coach CC Cordero said. “She brings such a great energy to the team and the game. Her genuine smile and energy during the game keeps everyone in a positive mood, no matter what is going on. Anneli is definitely admired by her team for her positivity and willingness to learn.”
Anneli loves supporting the Spartans and all that goes with being part of the squad.
“Being a cheerleader at MVHS makes me happy,” she said.
The “High School Musical” films make her happy, too. She’s a fan of all three movies, according to her dad. Anneli also loves to sing and dance, Robert added. Some Saturday evenings, Robert and Anne take Anneli to Santa Cruz for karaoke at the Coasters Lounge. Her favorite artists include Martina McBride, Taylor Swift and Maroon 5.
When she’s not singing, dancing or cheering, Anneli enjoys playing basketball and sitting next to the piano player at Max’s Opera Cafe at dinnertime.