Austin Montgomery’s cheerleading experience had been nothing more than a skit performed between quarters of a basketball game his sophomore year of high school.
Undeterred, the Greenwood Community High School graduate set his mind on becoming a cheerleader shortly after arriving at the United States Military Academy in July 2014.
Montgomery later this summer enters his fourth and final season as a member of West Point’s cheerleading team, the Rabble Rousers, and second year as captain. He said he is privileged to help carry on one of West Point’s many traditions – this one dating back 55 years.
“It’s a Division I team, we travel a lot and it really fits my personality, loud and enthusiastic,” Montgomery said.
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How Montgomery entered the world of split lifts, steppers and thigh stands was accidental, not intentional.
“I actually started my first week here,” Montgomery said. “During basic training I was actually looking to sign up for the powerlifting team and couldn’t find it.”
He remembered his sophomore year at Greenwood and how he and some of his Woodmen football teammates performed a choreographed routine at a Woodmen boys basketball game.
Montgomery remembered the steps that he had learned in preparation for that night, and that made the prospect of becoming a Rabble Rouser seem more appealing.
Where they cheer
Founded in 1962, the Rabble Rousers over time have evolved from the all-male squads of their infancy to their present roster of 35 cheerleaders — 20 female and 15 male.
The Rabble Rousers are on the sideline for every Army football game, both home and away, which means Montgomery has cheered on sidelines at such schools as Texas-El Paso, Air Force, Penn State, Stanford and Yale. He’s also cheered at Yankee Stadium.
Road trips this fall include Ohio State, Tulane (New Orleans), Rice (Houston) and a second visit to Colorado Springs to pull for the Black Knights against Air Force.
The Rabble Rousers practice their routines from 3:30 to 6 p.m. every day. On football Saturdays at West Point, they arrive outside venerable Michie Stadium at 8 a.m. to begin cheering at tailgate parties.
Most Army home games are noon kickoffs, which means the Rabble Rousers are typically cheering until about 3:30 or 4 p.m.
The squad also cheers at any Army-Navy sporting events hosted by Army, and at all home men’s and women’s basketball games. They also make the 260-mile trip to Annapolis, Maryland, to support the Black Knights when they play at Navy in men’s and women’s basketball.
Strength and technique
A rock solid 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, Montgomery said the Rabble Rousers work out two days a week in the mornings. The male cheerleaders, called bases, focus on strengthening the legs, shoulders and core.
The female cheerleaders, or flyers, concentrate on legs, core and stability.
Second-year West Point cheerleading coach Matt Seye noted the role strength plays in being a college cheerleader. For females, it’s mainly the core area; Montgomery and the other males must possess explosive power in their legs.
But there’s more.
“Cheerleading is not about muscle. What they really need to use is proper technique,” Seye said. “They do weight training, but a lot of it is technique. They’re always lifting someone in the air, and proper technique is extremely hard to teach.”
Pairing a base with a flyer depends on chemistry much of the time.
“We practice with all of the girls during practice, but some people are a better fit than others, so by the end of the year, most of the coed pairs are pretty consistent,” said Montgomery, who last year partnered with junior Bailey Bowlin, a native of Walton, Kentucky.
In one of the stunts, Montgomery extends his arm and holds the feet of the flyer in one hand. After the third quarter of the Army-Navy football game, the cheerleaders have a competition to see which school can hold it the longest.
During his freshman year, Navy won. In Montgomery’s second year, Army won. Last season, Navy chose not to compete because they didn’t have anyone who could do the routine.
Montgomery said he personally hasn’t won the competition.
In preparation for Army’s upcoming football season, Montgomery and Bowlin are working on what’s referred to as a rewind.
“Basically, I throw her up, she does a backflip and then lands on my hands with my arms extended overhead,” he said.
Having never been a cheerleader before arriving at West Point, Montgomery relies on his intellect to learn the routines. His level of conditioning and athletic instincts as a former football player and wrestler allow him to perform them.
The right choice
Montgomery’s academic credentials coming out of Greenwood — he was his class salutatorian in 2014 with a grade-point average of 4.64 — positioned him to attend almost any major college or university.
In his first three years at West Point, Montgomery, who majors in comparative politics and Arabic, has been able to spend 10 days in Israel, three weeks in Morocco and a week in Haiti as part of his academic workload.
He recently returned from a semester in Amman, the capital city of Jordan.
“It was an immersion experience,” Montgomery said. “I picked Arabic because I think a lot of Americans are ignorant about the Middle East and Islam, and it’s a source of a lot of the conflicts we have today.
“I want to help be that bridge. I love learning about Middle Eastern culture, and they were the friendliest people I’ve ever met.”
After graduating from West Point in the spring of 2018, Montgomery leaves for two years of flight school at Fort Rucker, located in the southeastern corner of Alabama.
He’ll follow that with six years of active duty.
Montgomery’s goal during that time is to become a Black Hawk pilot, flying a utility helicopter with four crew members and 11 passengers to move troops and equipment.
“West Point was definitely the right fit for me,” Montgomery said. “Twelve years is a long time, but I’ve loved the army so far.”