The Woodland cheer team has benefited from the strength and technical skill of several male athletes over the years.

This past season’s team was no different, relying on four senior guys to help the Wildcats compete with the top coed squads across the state. Now, two of those Woodland boys will get the chance to compete at the next level, with Gabe Jones heading to Shorter and Braden Foster joining the team at West Georgia.

“They worked so hard,” Woodland head coach Kathi Shedd said. “None of them had even thought about cheering until they came to high school. We kind of talked them into it, saying, ‘You could get scholarships for this.’ We knew they would be really good, because they’re just athletes. … They’re just amazing.”

Foster decided to join the cheer team after spending most of his time growing up playing baseball and football.

“I wanted to try something else out that I hadn’t done before,” he said. “Since I was a little kid, I’ve always wanted to do sports. I played baseball pretty much my whole life and then football. I wanted to try something else out, so I tried cheer, because I like to do flips with my friends.”

He can barely believe that decision has led to him joining a powerhouse at West Georgia. Between the coed and all-girls cheer teams, the Wolves have won 24 UCA championships since the turn of the century, including six straight for the coed team.

“It’s honestly crazy,” Foster said of getting to cheer collegiately. “I sit down and I think about it, I don’t even know how I got into cheer. … Just being able to be in it and going to college for it right after that was just crazy. It’s a big step for me. I didn’t expect myself ever doing that, because I’ve always been a baseball and football kid.”

Jones, meanwhile, started cheering after being in band.

“It was structured, but it was structured a lot differently from band,” he said. “I was so used to moving my feet at a certain beat, but [with cheer] it’s about getting to your spot and making sure your motions are clean. I was like, ‘I can do this. This is easy.’ I just kind of fell in love with it.”

Through training with the Wildcats, as well as work done with Stingrays cheer, Jones and Foster managed to become top competitors. The rapid growth also led to both athletes successfully making it through tryouts to join their respective college teams.

“I had to learn new stunts I wasn’t doing in high school,” Jones said of the process. “They’re a lot more challenging and take more time to learn. Guys are expected to do more on the floor, and I wasn’t expecting that. At tryouts, I had to be a bit peppier, more than normal. It took a lot of time and dedication just to try out for the team.”

But all the hard work and sacrifices, including canceling plans with friends, became worth it, when Jones learned that he had made the team at Shorter.

“I was astonished; I was excited,” he said. “I texted my girlfriend, texted my parents [and] texted my coach. … It was a pretty memorable moment.”

For part of his senior year, it seemed as though Foster might also be heading to Shorter. However, when he learned the school didn’t offer a software engineering degree, Foster chose to look elsewhere.

“Further into [the process], I realized that they didn’t have the degree I wanted to pursue,” he said. “I continued looking at other schools. I found out West Georgia had the degree I wanted to pursue, and the coach was already looking at me.”

Despite having made it through tryouts, Foster remains focused on continued improvement in order to become a valued member of the Wolves.

“I’m definitely going to need a lot more progression,” he said. “They do higher skills than we do at the high school. I went to the clinics they were having. … I learned things that I didn’t even know I could do. I’m continuing to learn new things, and we have practices starting in June. We’re going to start working out every day together as a team to help further my skills and make them better.”

Having seen their talents up close, Shedd believes West Georgia and Shorter will each be getting an excellent addition to their program.

“He’s one of the ones who can do it all,” Shedd said of Foster. “He can stunt; he can tumble; and he can jump. He’s the whole package.

“He has great leadership. He’s the kid that will be there before practice, working on his own. He’ll stay after practice, working on his own.”

As for Jones, “He’s such a good kid and such a good worker,” Shedd said. “He’s very spiritual; he’s a leader in our FCA. He’s just an all-around good kid.”

At the end of the day, Shedd is just super impressed and proud of how far Jones and Foster came during their time with the Wildcats.

“It’s amazing the progress that guys can make, when it comes to tumbling,” Shedd said. “They progressed so much with their stunting skills. They just improved so much and so fast.”