September 18, 2010

Gumby’s new role

Cony graduate now cheering for Orange

By Gary Hawkins
Staff Writer

Ryan Henry has come out of the stands and onto the field at Syracuse University.

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ROOTING INTEREST: Ryan Henry is a fifth-year senior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and will graduate in the spring with a degree in landscape architecture. But on Saturdays, the Cony High School graduate is better known as the former Syracuse superfan who’s now a cheerleader.

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The Augusta native and Cony High School graduate is now a cheerleader for the Orange and will be on the sidelines tonight at the Carrier Dome for the football game between Syracuse and the University of Maine.

"I'm pretty excited about Maine," Henry said. "We struggled with them last year a little. They're not taking Maine lightly."

Henry, more often known as Gumby, gained national attention last winter when he and his pal Jason -- aka the Orange Bandit -- were featured on ESPN's College GameDay show prior to the Georgetown-Syracuse basketball game.

The pair led a group of fanatics in the stands who fired up the crowd at home games. They weren't official cheerleaders but were given preferential treatment and seating by the school.

Now that Gumby is a member of a Division I team, he's had to wear the school uniform instead of the wild blue and orange getup he wore to games last season. The team has allowed him a couple of extra wristbands.

The cheerleading coach asked Gumby to join the team after the GameDay broadcast last winter. "I always went with a crew and they were all graduating," Henry said. "So I said, 'Why not try?' "

Henry isn't an actual student at Syracuse. He attends nearby SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, but since that school doesn't have dormitories, Henry lives on the Syracuse campus, where he is a resident assistant in one of the dorms.

Now a fifth-year senior, Henry will graduate in the spring with a degree in landscape architecture. Without the Orange Bandit, who now works for a TV station in Buffalo, there would be no Gumby and the Bandit, so Henry decided to go a different route. His role is not so much different than it was last year.

"I have a partner I lift and hold up," he said. "I wave the big 'S' flag during the game. I really just get the crowd pumped up as I did in the stands."

One thing Henry didn't do last year was practice. This year he practices three times a week and also participates in weightlifting and cardio sessions five times a week.

"It's done a lot for getting me in shape," said the 6-foot-4 Henry, who has dropped 30 pounds. "I like it a lot."

Cheerleaders get to travel to two away games with the team and Henry has already been on the road twice.

"It's awesome seeing the other side of it," he said.

Despite his loyalty to Syracuse, Gumby still roots for Maine, much as he did in his days at Cony where he played in the band and also led cheers at basketball games. Two of the members of the squad are also from Maine. "I'm excited to see (Lewiston native) Jared Turcotte play," he said.

Henry said he still carries out some of the superstitions he did last year when he entered the Carrier Dome by the same route, shaking hands with security guards and ushers and paying homage to the picture of Syracuse lacrosse star Mike Powell and the Heisman Trophy won by Ernie Davis.

"I'm still going to be the really crazy super fan," he said.

Gary Hawkins -- 621-5638

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