SARATOGA SPRINGS — When Sequoia Cumming showed up at the informational meeting this past spring for kids interested in playing football this season for the Saratoga Springs football program, head coach Terry Jones didn’t double-take.
“She was at the meeting, she filled out her form and then she showed up all summer for our lifting,” Jones said. “She’s been with us ever since. I wasn’t going to question her. I don’t question anybody else.”
That’s the nondescript way in which Cumming, now a senior at Saratoga Springs, became one of several female players on Section II football teams this season. She likes that it happened that way, too. Cumming — the Blue Streaks’ 5-foot-4, 130-pound backup kicker — doesn’t consider herself to be making a statement by playing football, other than that she’s pursuing an opportunity to do something memorable with her senior year.
“I just never considered it a boys’ sport. I’ve always played sports with boys, so doing that is not a foreign idea to me,” said Cumming, who grew up playing competitive soccer. “I’ve just considered this to be another co-ed thing. For me, that mental boundary wasn’t there.”
Cumming said her father had challenged her last year to take up a school sport for her senior year, since she had never worn a Blue Streaks uniform. While soccer seemed like a logical choice, Cumming said she immediately gravitated toward the idea of joining the football team. She’s been a Seattle Seahawks fan for as long as she can remember, a rooting interest that’s the result of the many summer trips to Seattle she’s made to see relatives who live there.
“So I’ve always appreciated the sport,” Cumming said. “I just never considered being a part of it until recently.”
In picking football to try, Cumming’s goal was to challenge herself physically as much as possible. A friend on last year’s Blue Streaks team — Tim Reed — helped get Cumming started with a weight-lifting program similar to what would be expected of her if she joined the football team, and she got to work.
By the time summer workouts came around, Cumming had built up her strength and stamina to the point she could keep up with the other players who are “just much larger than me.”
“And she was one of the few who didn’t miss a single lifting session all summer,” Jones said.
That stuck out to her teammates.
“It was definitely a little different seeing a girl come to our football meetings,” said senior Mark Leuchten, a linebacker and holder on kicking plays. “But when we started summer lifting, she was there all the time and committed as anybody else. She’s just another teammate for us.”
It wasn’t that way right away. Cumming said she knew some of her teammates viewed her differently at first.
“They wanted to see where this was going, which I understood,” Cumming said.
“We’re definitely a team,” Cumming said. “We’re a giant family.”
After those first few workouts, Cumming said she’s felt like any other Blue Streak on the team’s roster. She changes in her own locker room, but that’s the only thing different about her place on the team.
“Honestly, not that it’s not a big deal, but we don’t look at her like it’s a big deal,” said Jones, who couldn’t remember another girl playing for the Blue Streaks since he first started with the program in 1999. “We look at her like a teammate.”
She’s been a good one, too, happy to cheer on her teammates from the sideline when she’s not playing. She’s taken part in drills to learn how to shed blocks and run routes, but has no desire to play on the field in a capacity outside of kicking — and she has a great sense of humor about why she feels that way.
“It would be cool if I could tackle,” Cumming said, “but I can’t.”
Cumming played in Saratoga Springs’ Week 1 victory against Niskayuna, but was unsuccessful on her two point-after attempts. The first attempt didn’t feature a clean exchange before she entered the picture, while her second kick was short. In Week 2’s win against Shenendehowa, Saratoga Springs only used sophomore Jake Williams in PAT situations, but Jones said Cumming continues to show improvement.
“She’ll definitely get more opportunities as we go along,” said Jones, whose team takes on Guilderland this Friday.
Already, though, Cumming is playing with house money. She’s a football rookie on a team planning to contend for a Section II Class AA title. Cumming expected not to see any action this season.
“Honestly, I thought that was out of reach,” she said. “But that wasn’t the point of me joining the football team, anyway.”
“It was to see if I could do it,” Cumming said, “and I could.”