On Saturday, 90 Ravens cheerleader finalists — male and female, culled from over 300 original competitors — auditioned for roughly 60 spots on the squad. Many were returning vets. Men tried out for “stunt” performance only, while women could strut their dance and/or stunt skills. Callback event happened loud and proud, before a paying 500-person crowd ($20 a ticket) at the Lyric Opera House. Fourteen “local celebrity judges” were on hand, including Ravens legend/TV personality Qadry Ismail. Spying the busy coverage in The Baltimore Sun got me pondering the value of performing as a cheerleader as an adult — I mean, I never saw the sense in the silly pastime when I was a kid. Growing up in Texas, cheerleading capital of the universe, I saw the sport as viciously competitive and snobby. Girls who secured a spot on the varsity or JV squad became the royalty of the huge school; they set the standard for looks and decided who fit into the larger popular crowd and who absolutely did not gain admission to keg parties in the woods.
After more patient research, I find myself hot-curler-ing a twist into my post’s narrative, a post that I first imagined would involve poking easy fun at these mostly blond and built, typically plainspoken + hyper-chipper gals. Sure, mainstream cheerleading will always sign up beauty and grace of the capital-C Conventional variety (though Cheer Coordinator Tina Galdieri promised she’s looking for beauty, brains, and skill, all three). But the Ravens cheer candidates I’ve recently videoed and read more closely about all come across as mature, realistic adults who are rather humbly passionate about both the Ravens’ team spirit and the joy of fitness. Many of the performers (blond/built/overly made-up included) are married people in their late 20s and early 30s, with kids to care for, and on top of that, full-time jobs to manage. (Full-time employment, full-time stay-at-home-parent status or full-time college enrollment is a requirement, as the Ravens pay cheerleaders only about $100 per game, though squad members can earn money through public appearances, according to About.com). A quick aside: In 2005, Molly Shattuck famously became the oldest Ravens mom-with-pompom at 38.