Catonsville Ravens Roost brings cheer to dreary season

Good, bad or indifferent: Catonsville fans stay true to Ravens

With less than two minutes to go in the regular season, and playoff hopes long gone, Ravens Roost No. 117 cheered when Ryan Mallett threw a touchdown pass to Kyle Juszczyk on Jan. 3.

"Who let the dogs out?" roost President Ed Young yelled, and the crowd echoed back.

The Ravens were down eight points against the host Cincinnati Bengals and could tie the game if they could get the ball back.

Things quieted inside Morsberger's Tavern in Catonsville.

"Come on, guys," one fan pleaded.

The Ravens forced a punt, and the offense came back onto the field. Two plays later, Mallett attempted a deep pass to Jeremy Butler.

Interception.

So ended one of the worst seasons in the Ravens' 20-year history. But for Roost No. 117, one of dozens of Ravens Roost fan clubs in Maryland and beyond, things weren't all that bad. They like watching the games anyway, members said, they get a kick out of the camaraderie and they enjoy raising money for charity.

Win or lose, most said they had fun this season. And according to Young, last year they raised about $7,000 for Special Olympics Maryland, $5,000 for the American Cancer Society and about $3,000 for other charities.

Every away game they have a "tailgate" party at Morsberger's, with food, buckets of beer and a 50/50 raffle. At the start of the season members put a favorite charity in a hat, and each week a different group is picked to get the proceeds from the raffle. About $100 from the 50/50 held Jan. 3 is going to Lucky Dog Animal Rescue.

Roost No. 117 is one of two roosts in Catonsville operating under the Council of Baltimore Ravens Roosts, which last year donated a combined $125,000 to Special Olympics of Maryland, according to Young.

The council oversees the individual fan clubs and holds its annual convention over Memorial Day weekend in Ocean City. It began in 1957 as the Council of Colts Corrals. When the Colts left town in 1984, the organization stayed intact as the city received short-lived franchises in the United States Football League and then the Canadian Football League.

To start a new roost, fans need 25 members who are at least 21 years old.

On Jan. 3, the loudest fan in the bar was Michelle Horning of Linthicum. She had a purple Joe Flacco jersey on, and white plastic chains around her neck. When the team got a first down, she waved them in the air and led a chant: "Move those chains, move those chains, move those chains."

Horning is proud of the small donations the group makes, she said.

"Everyone gives to the big ones," she said.

With the 50/50 raffles they can give a few hundred dollars or so to groups such as homeless shelters, suicide prevention organizations and groups that support foster children.

Rita Hall of Catonsville was happy that muscular dystrophy group Our Little Jewels, her charity of choice, received about $150 through the raffle this year.

Hall and her sister Denise Rogers organize the food at the away-game tailgate parties. On Jan. 3 the theme was Italian, with pasta, pizza, sausage with peppers, salad, bread and tiramisu.

While the game was on Hall was buzzing around the room, checking on members and making sure everybody had plenty to eat.

"We kind of take over," Hall said of she and her sister. "We like to entertain."

The sisters were disappointed by the season, they said, but said that's just how the game goes.

"We're here to have a good time," Rogers said.

"Support our Ravens, support our roost," Hall said.

"Support our community," Rogers finished.

And though there is plenty of football talk in the room, there's also more personal conversations. Do you like your new job, did you have a good New Year's holiday, and so on.

According to Young everyone is welcome at the roost events — people can brings friends, and many people from outside the Catonsville area have joined their roost because they like the group. The common factor is loving football. Roost No. 117 has 82 members, including one fan of the Ravens' main rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Young said.

Their roost is relatively new; Young founded it along with Stephen and Trish Fluke and others about five years ago.

Stephen Fluke said it's easier to watch the difficult losses because he knows there are circumstances out of the team's control — the Ravens lost 20 players to injury this season, the most in the eight-year tenure of coach John Harbaugh.

"It's just heart-wrenching sometimes," Trish Fluke said.

Still, spirits were up and chants were still loud at the Jan. 3 tailgate. Season-ticket holder Kim Orzechkowski of Linthicum was cheering near the front of the room. .

She supports the Ravens "good, bad or indifferent," she said.

She yelled so much while attending the game against the Steelers on Dec. 27 in Baltimore that she couldn't talk for days, she said. That was a bright spot in the season. On Dec. 13, when the Ravens hosted the Seattle Seahawks, she remembers that M&T Bank Stadium emptied out early because the game went so poorly — the Ravens lost 35-6.

"There were a couple weeks we thought I was going to have to come in and play," Orzechkowski said. "You gotta stick with them."

The games are always fun to watch, she said. Although this season, the bizarre number of injuries sidelined many of the team's leaders, the two most notable being linebacker Terrell Suggs, who ruptured his Achilles tendon, and quarterback Joe Flacco, who tore two ligamentsin his left knee.

"When Suggs went down, we went, 'There goes our defense,'" Young said, wearing his white Suggs jersey.

Suggs had replaced Ray Lewis as the heart of the defense, Young said.

When Flacco went down?

"Oh, this is adding insult to injury," he said.

With the Ravens' dreadful 2015 season over, Roost No. 117 is preparing for the Special Olympics Maryland Polar Bear Plunge at the end of January, when they'll make another sizable donation to the charity. There is also a wine and beer fundraiser in April, as well as a dance that month and Relay for Life in May.

All the while, their minds will be on next season.

"Next year we're going to have the most experienced second- and third-string squad ever," Horning said.

When the game was over Jan. 3 and roost members started packing up and saying their goodbyes, Horning got one final chant in.

"2016! 2016!"

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