|Ayden Sengphiehl poses with his Woodgrove High School competition cheer teammates Oct. 23 at the Conference 21 meet. Sengphiehl is the Wolverines’ first male cheerleader. Times-Mirror Photos/Rick Wasser |
Ayden Sengphiehl wanted to try something different. He had played a few years of competitive football, including a season on the freshmen team at Woodgrove High School.
Following a series of injuries - highlighted by a concussion - Sengphiehl decided not to play football as a sophomore. He instead opted to take on a part-time job at Jersey Mike's in Purcellville.
During that period, Sengphiehl pondered changing his athletic focus to cheerleading. "I thought it would be interesting to do something different, something that not a lot of other guys do."
One of his co-workers, Ashley Beamer was already a member of Woodgrove's competition cheer squad.
"We were getting ready to close up the shop and something came up about me wanting to try cheerleading," Sengphiehl said of his conversation with Beamer. "She suggested I come out to a preseason practice to see if I like it. I did and I really enjoyed it."
He quickly learned there is a lot more to cheerleading than what you see on the sidelines at a football game.
"When I first started, I didn't know anything, I couldn't even do a handstand or a cartwheel," Sengphiehl said. "I worked all summer learning the basic cheer stuff and improving my tumbling skills so I could make the varsity team."
Sengphiehl's efforts paid off as he became the first-ever male cheerleader at the Purcellville school that opened in 2010.
He has become a welcomed addition to the Wolverine cheer squad. "It's been great. They are all glad I decided to do it," Sengphiel said of his teammates. "Having a guy on the team helps allow more freedom on the stunts."
Sengphiehl, now a junior, notes that he has received positive feedback from school mates and teachers, even from some of his former football teammates.
"A lot of them said they wouldn't have the guts to do it," he said. "I didn't get too much negative stuff about it. I was pretty surprised."
Sengphiehl participated in beginner-level classes in the summer at All Star Legacy in Charles Town, W. Va. He now makes that trip six times a week.
Along with cheering in competitions and on the sidelines for Woodgrove, Sengphiehl has joined two senior level squads at All Star Legacy.
He said his favorite aspect of cheerleading is the competitions. Teams will often practice for several weeks in preparation for a routine that lasts a maximum of three minutes.
"I love the competitions, they give me the most satisfaction," he said. "There is something about going out on the mat performing something you have been practicing for so long with your teammates."
Sengphiehl, the youngest of eight siblings, aspires to continue his new-found passion at the collegiate level.
"That's one of the reasons I'm trying so hard," he explained. "I want to try to get a scholarship to go to a college that has a good co-ed cheer team."
On the rise
More than half of the squads that competed in this year's Loudoun County Public Schools Cheer Championships included a male on their roster.
Along with Sengphiehl, Briar Woods (Giovan Morto), Dominion (Gary Clay), Heritage (Koosha Kassiri), Park View (Marcus Luangrath), Stone Bridge (David Nguyen) and Tuscarora (Eli Reed) were also part of the competition.
Nicholas Marchio is in his sixth season as head coach of Stone Bridge's highly-successful program. Marchio cheered at Stone Bridge and at Virginia Tech, where he was a team captain for three years.
Marchio points out that the number of male cheerleaders dwindled when the varsity competition season moved from winter to fall in 2003. He was among a handful of males that played football in the fall and cheered in the winter at Stone Bridge.
While saying that it's hard for cheer to compete with football for male participants, Marchio added "It's picking back up again. Guys are saying that maybe football is not for them and want to try something different."