Warrensburg High School Senior Seth Wood yells cheer during a basketball game held Dec. 20. He is the second male cheerlearder at Warrensburg at the school in at least a quarter century.
Wearing the traditional pleated skirts, 10 or so cheerleaders at the edge of the Warrensburg High School gym's basketball court began a cheer to boost their team to victory.
“P – U – M – P, pump it up, pump that Burgher spirit up,” they called out in treble tones, gyrating and waving their arms in unison.
One cheerleader, however, in blue sweat pants, yelled the same words out in a baritone voice – Warrensburg Senior Seth Wood.
In a blue-collar, conservative community that hosts hunters, loggers and construction workers, Wood has taken on an unconventional role – he's the second male in a half-century or more to join the high school's cheerleading squad.
During a Lake-George/Warrensburg girls basketball game Dec. 20, the 2011-12 Warrensburg cheering squad talked about Wood and his influence on their group.
Cheerleader Montgomery Sheridan said Wood has encouraged the cheerleaders to get into the best shape they can, and has shown them the basics of weightlifting, one of his fitness interests.
“He lifts weights, and he's tougher than some of the basketball players or wrestlers,” she said.
Victoria Oehler said his fitness instruction has been helpful: “He taught us to lift straight,” she said. “He encourages us to do our best.”
Robin Winslow Mahler said West is not the first male student to join the Warrensburgh High School cheerleading squad. She said Jason Bell, a WCS senior during the mid-2000s, was perhaps the first ever to be a Burgher cheerleader. She said he was an accomplished breakdancer, and had the ability to run across walls, seemingly defying gravity.
West also has airborne talents, perhaps more conventional. He is able to kick his feet out to his sides, high and wide, and touch his toes – a traditional cheerleading routine.
It was this talent, the girls said, that got him involved in the squad to begin with.
Last year, Wood had just gotten out of a drama session, rehearsing for the school's production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” He passed by the cheerleaders in the high school, and uttered a wisecrack of their jumping abilities. He chided them that he could jump higher and with more precision than any of them.
Challenged by the cheerleaders to surpass their attempts, he jumped high off the floor and executed a professional toe-touch routine on the spot.
Makala Hill recalled that she watched his jaw-dropping feat.
“I told him, you have to join us – then we literally forced him to.”
Not long afterwards, he was practicing and performing routines for them at the Varsity games.
As might be expected, Wood took a little flak for his non-traditional role.
“At first, I got a little of the 'gay' crap here and there,” Wood said.
The girls on the squad have defended his choice to take on a role traditionally reserved for girls, at least in locals' eyes.
Cheerleader Nequia Lagabeer said the cheerleaders watch his back and squash any discriminatory or derogatory comments.
“I tell them, if you have a problem with Seth on the squad, you have a problem with the whole team,” she said.
Wood said he appreciates the support.
“At this point, most of the squad would go flippin' out and stand up for me if someone said anything,” he said, adding that he plans to go out for cheerleading again in college.
The relationship between Wood and the other cheerleaders is apparently mutual.
Cheerleading coach Robin Mahler said Wood is viewed as a “big brother” by the girls.
Langabeer said the squad wouldn't be the same without the male influence Seth Wood provides.
“He's very athletic and helpful for the team – I feel safe with him around,” she said. “He does a lot for the team, and we respect him for it.”