The brief history of Winters High School’s weirdest club

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By Justin Cox

The safest way to approach high school is to slot yourself somewhere among the preexisting social cliques and glide through with as little resistance as possible. The story of the Ultimate Warriors is one that goes out of its way to skirt that convention.

The high school club’s run was brief (2001-2007, with some wiggle room on both ends) but resonant. Much of the club’s history is lost to time, having existed just before the arrival of social media and cell phone cameras. A dozen or so yearbook pages and Winters Express spreads represent the surviving confirmation of the club’s existence. As a result, this story is largely built upon the memories of students, teachers and administrators from that period.

What started on a lark by a collection of rule-bending Winters High School seniors on their way out the door would take on a more refined focus in the years that followed their graduation. Future classes would use the club as a vehicle for prodding at social norms and questioning administration rules, embodied most notably by their nomination in 2003 of a female for the popular Mr. Warrior competition – something that had never happened prior.

“What was cool about the club was that it attracted all sorts of people,” said Jay Shuttleworth, former Winters High School history teacher and Ultimate Warriors advisor. “These were some of the kindest, most thoughtful people on campus – accomplished musicians, writers, athletes and scholars. There was no way to typecast them.”

At their core, the Ultimate Warriors were a spirit club that performed skits at rallies, but the execution looked like a messy blend of drama, cheer, debate and detention-bound class clown. With no existing blueprint dictating their plans, the lane was wide open for experimentation.

“I remember thinking, ‘You guys are crazy, but this is exactly what you should be doing,’” said Shuttleworth. “Don’t just fit into what exists here already.”

 

The early years: Sanctioned pranksters 

The two students who founded the club in fall of 2001, Sean Young and Fernando Flores, graduated out of Winters High School the following spring. The bulk of its most active members (the author included) also walked the stage that year. The club very well could have slipped into obscurity upon arrival, but it didn’t play out that way. A group of young, creative students lay in waiting.

“We made it representative of us and it sounds like future classes did, too,” said Young, who said the group offered he and his friends a sanctioned outlet for their tomfoolery. “It became whatever the group of student wanted to make it that particular year.”

Staff at the Winters High School office could not produce documentation of the club’s inception, but the general consensus is that it was born after Shuttleworth played a VHS tape of the Aggie Pack, a quirky UC Davis spirit club that was particularly vibrant in the ‘90s. Members dressed up and performed impromptu skits at sporting events and other campus activities, often times with an element of surprise akin to the flash mob craze that would arrive a decade later.

Sometime around the viewing of that tape, a few friends of Flores and Young did a dance-oriented performance of the Jackson 5 at a rally. Those two events, in some order, birthed the Ultimate Warriors, which borrowed their name from the iconic 1980s wrestler.

In the ensuing years, the club would go on to perform choreographed skits inspired by the Village People, New Kids on the Block and Riverdance, 2001 Space Odyssey, Monte Python, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Men in Tights, Grease and more.

Mike Paschoal, a year-round athlete, was heavily involved in the club’s formation. He saw it as an opportunity to have a good time with many of his longtime friends who didn’t play football or baseball.

“I think that’s the biggest thing about it,” Paschoal said. “None of my close guy friends played sports, so it was a place for all of our zany ideas.”

At least 20 of the 28 members pictured in the Ultimate Warriors 2001 yearbook page were seniors, so the club was bequeathed to a loose collection of youngsters when they graduated. By 2003, though, the club was 22 students strong and as organized and inspired as they’d ever been, if not more so.

 

The middle years: Ms. Warrior    

In the spring of 2003, the Ultimate Warriors gathered to nominate their representative for the annual Mr. Warrior competition. They didn’t go into that meeting with the intention of making a statement, but they came out with one. Their nominee would be Maggie Brewer, a talented musician and bright student, and the first female ever nominated.

Neither Shuttleworth nor Brewer could recall precisely how the meeting played out – only that conversation led the classroom of students to nominate Brewer, who said she was hesitant as the idea materialized.

“I remember not really wanting to do it,” she said. “I’m not a boat-rocker. I’m the type of girl who wants to please everybody and follow the rules.”

Shuttleworth wanted to make sure she was up for it, so the two had a conversation in which he warned her that they’d probably run into some friction.

Nora Cary was a fellow Ultimate Warrior at the time.

“I remember there being some animosity toward Maggie about it, but mostly toward the judges [and the] school for letting her compete,” Cary said. “I think people felt like Mr. Warrior was the boys’ answer to the typical girls-only beauty pageant.”

Brewer said she was supported steadfastly by the Ultimate Warriors, so much so that it felt like the club as a whole was carrying the nomination.

“It turned out to be super empowering,” she said. “I’m really glad it happened, but it wasn’t something I was really excited about in the moment.”

The school principal at the time was George Griffin.

“I remember there being some grumbling,” Griffin said. “But never anything beyond just some grumbling. I’m not sure everybody thought it was a great idea, but there was no legitimate reason to not allow it other than a tradition that doesn’t mean anything when weighed against gender equity.”

Shuttleworth strongly challenges Griffin’s characterization, saying he and Griffin had several arguments over whether Brewer could be the club’s nominee.

“I think George is being selective in his memory, as he and I bitterly clashed over this,” said Shuttleworth. “George shouldn’t be given much credit for allowing Maggie to participate when he absolutely blocked her the first go-round.”

Sometime after Brewer was confirmed, another female student, Janell Shafer, was nominated to represent the yearbook class.

When the actual event arrived, Brewer went on to win the whole pageant. The Winters Express recapped it the following week in an article by Dawn Van Dyke.

“History was made at the annual Mr./Ms. Warrior Pageant when Maggie Brewer won the headdress and the title of Ms. Warrior,” she wrote. “This was the first year that female contestants were allowed to enter the competition, and it was a tough one.”

Several females have gone on to participate in (and win?) the pageant in the years to follow.

 

The later years: Dancing on the line   

The group of students who came in behind Brewer’s class carried with them not only the out-of-the-box silliness that distinguished the founding group, but also the somewhat activist bent it added in the ensuing years. Among those students was Andrew Fridae, who would go on after high school to play a major role in local theater and co-own The Palms Playhouse along with aforementioned Ultimate Warriors alumnus, Nora Cary.

“I wanted an outlet to be goofy in public,” said Fridae. “And we felt like comedy was one of those social places where people could push back against any administration.”

Fridae said the club was prevented from doing sketches several times because of rules that barred cross-dressing, which he said only applied to men dressing as women and not vice-versa. The club’s inspiration for such sketches, he said, was Monte Python, where male actors routinely played women.

At one event, the Ultimate Warriors performed the YMCA at a talent show, according to Fridae. They wore basketball shorts, but ripped them off mid-dance and finished in tights, which either outright broke the rule or teetered right on the edge of it. Fridae said the club made a deliberate point of trying to annoy the administration.

Griffin confirmed that he had a policy against cross-dressing, but said his motivations were rooted in preventing behavior that would insult women.

“My rule was that if you’re going to do that in a way that demeans anybody, that’s unacceptable,” Griffin said. “Was it difficult to enforce? At times it was, but only because of ignorance. People were trying to have a laugh.”

Griffin referred specifically to male students dressing as powderpuff cheerleaders, not the Ultimate Warriors, but Fridae said the rule was used as a barrier for the club on multiple occasions.

 

The end of the Ultimate Warriors

It appears the club faded into obscurity sometime around 2007 or 2008. With Shuttleworth as the only real continuity among the carousel of rotating students, it disappeared when he left Winters High School for the east coast.

Maggie Brewer said Shuttleworth was the perfect person to shepherd such a club in part because he didn’t have prior ties to the city of Winters, which afforded him some room to push the envelope.

“In high school there’s so much emphasis on looking cool,” Brewer said of her experience. “It’s fun to let that go and do something with less pressure and more silliness. I was naïve as a teenager, so it was kind of edgy.”

Shuttleworth saw a connection between the historic movements he taught in his classroom and the impact a club like the Ultimate Warriors could have. As an advisor he was mostly hands-off, but he said he would step in and push the group at times if he felt they needed it.

“I think frankly every campus needs an Ultimate Warriors,” Shuttleworth said. “They overshot even what I expected them to do.”

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