One of the greatest rewards in this world is seeing a return on the investment of hard work and sacrifice, and for a group of women who live in Harford County, the hard work they have put toward earning and keeping spots on the Baltimore Ravens cheerleading squad is paying off with a trip to the Super Bowl.
Serena B., a John Carroll graduate who lives in Bel Air; Angel P., of Bel Air; Joanna P., an Abingdon native who went to Edgewood High; and Jaime A., a West Virginia native who resides in Abingdon, Ravens Cheerleaders all, were recently put on the list of 32 squad members who would be making the journey with the Ravens to New Orleans, where Baltimore will square off with the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday. (The NFL doesn't allow its cheerleaders to reveal their full names in public forums.)
"Everyone is buzzing with excitement," Serena B., a four-year member of the squad who teaches tap and ballet at the Bel Air Athletic Club, said. "We have put in endless hours this season, and are continuing to do so during the post-season. We couldn't be more thrilled to prove to everyone, once again, that they shouldn't underestimate the Ravens."
"We are just as keyed up as the whole city and state, along with every Ravens fan in the world," Angel P., who has been dancing and cheering since age 4, and has been with the Ravens for six seasons, said. "We always cheer on our team, win or lose, but this is amazing."
JoAnna P., who began her cheerleading career at 5 with the Bel Air Redskins rec team and has been cheering with the Baltimore squad for four years, was at a loss for words when asked how she was feeling about the impending trip down south.
"I don't know that I can find the words to truly express all of my emotion and excitement about the team making it to the Super Bowl, and the 32 of us that get to go cheer them on in New Orleans," she said. "I've never felt more honored, and I'm ecstatic about the opportunity to cheer at one of the biggest games in the NFL."
Jaime A., one of the Ravens' senior cheerleaders, having been on the squad for eight years, and who was a member of the teams at West Virginia University and Morehead State, summed up the feelings of her fellow team members quite succinctly: "Everyone is so excited about this entire experience," she said.
"This is probably the biggest dream of any NFL cheerleader, and we just can't believe we are living it."
No easy days
Though you would never be able to tell from the attitude they project on the field, the women on the Ravens cheerleading squad are under an intense amount of pressure. Getting a spot on the team is hard, and keeping one is every bit as tough.
Angel P., who began cheering at 4 in the Overlea rec football program and initially tried out for the Ravens squad at 19, detailed the initiation process and what the team members deal with at practices.
"It takes a very strong person with a lot of motivation and drive to be an NFL cheerleader," she said. "We are required to have a full-time job, or be a full-time student, to even be considered for a spot on the squad. Our tryout process is very extensive, and includes a two-day tryout selection with criteria of dance, poise, athleticism and appearance. The second round is in front of an interview panel of coaches, professionals and Ravens personnel. The final round is a physical evaluation by Ravens team physician, and practice rounds to see how the team would fit together. In regards to our 'dance moves,' we're required to learn 18 fillers, and we are tested on them at camp in front of our directors and coaches. This material is what everyone sees on the field on game day. It's our responsibility to stay in shape and be healthy. Each practice we run four miles, participate in strength training and do cardio with dance."
"People are often surprised when they learn that we have to try out to make the cheer team every year," Jaime A. said. " I have been on the squad eight years, and it doesn't get easier. We don't have much of an off-season. We start our tryout clinics in February, [the same month of the Super Bowl]."
Serena B. who began dancing at 2 "and hasn't stopped since," explained the pressures involved with remaining a team member, and how she copes with them.
"Every year the stakes get higher and higher as expectations continue to increase," she said. "Our team is never stagnant, and we always are pushing to be better than we were before. That being said, it is a difficult task. But, when it is something that you are truly passionate about and have faith in, you find it in you to stay motivated to make it to the final round. It also helps to have a great support system at home. I couldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for my family cheering me on."
For those interested
The path to becoming an NFL cheerleader, whether with the Ravens or any other team, is not an easy one, but the Harford County women making the trip to New Orleans for the Super Bowl were unanimous in their advice to younger girls looking to make the spot on a pro squad.
"Never give up and stay positive," JoAnna P., who made the squad on her third try in 2008 after being cut the previous two years, said. "Anything is possible with a little hard work and perseverance. Always follow your dreams."
"Stay focused, and know that if you keep doing good things, good things will come to you with hard work, dedication, ethics and morals," Angel P. said.
"Never give up," Serena B. said. "Just remember why you want to be a part of this organization, and let that push you to be the best all around person that you can be. While I am so grateful that I am able to continue my love of dance, being an NFL cheerleader is more than just being on the field at game day, it's about representing our team and our city."
"I would tell them to always give 100 percent, and never give up," Jaime A. said. " I would have never imagined as a child that my love of cheerleading would have brought me so many amazing experiences."
Who's gonna win?
Not surprising at all was the response each of the four women gave when asked who they thought was going to come home with Lombardi Trophy after Sunday's matchup: "Ravens, all the way."