Ravens open their nest for a cheerleading squad Gymnasts and dancers, including 26 men, seek to perform along sideline


Paul Stankiewicz, in the far left corner of the arena, has set himself apart from the sweating masses as he performs what looks like an aerobic interpretive dance.

He's determined to be a part of the new Ravens cheerleading squad, along with the more than 300 hopefuls -- nearly all female -- who joined him at Towson Center yesterday.

By the end of the day, the pool of 300 was narrowed to about 100.

Semifinals will be held tomorrow at the Sheraton Inner Harbor, reducing the number to about 60. After that, interviews and tryouts will resume until the approximately 20 stunt team and 22 dance team members are chosen.

Stankiewicz, 20, one of 26 men to turn out, would prefer to be chosen for the dance team. So what if it's an all-female team?

"I'll see what I can weasel my way into," the Southwest Baltimore resident said. "I'll have to talk with them."

Nothing's written in stone, said David Modell, executive vice president of the Ravens.

"If he's good, why shouldn't he be considered?" Modell said. "Though he'd probably look pretty funny in a skirt. We'd have our own Milton Berle."

The Ravens will add a cheerleading squad because a survey of season ticket-holders about a year ago indicated that fans wanted one, Ravens spokesmen say.

"It's going to offer a better entertainment package on game day," says Kevin Byrne, vice president of public relations for the Ravens. "We are trying to have a college-type atmosphere at our games."

Byrne said the only other National Football League teams without dance or cheerleading squads are the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets, New York Giants and Chicago Bears. And the only ones with co-ed squads are the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will add a co-ed squad this year.

The Ravens tryouts began with an aerobic warm-up. Then the applicants learned the day's routine. After that, they appeared in groups of four before 10 judges, all of whom have dance or cheerleading backgrounds. They were judged on dance ability, physical appearance and tumbling.

A few minutes after the bouncy warm-up began, the smell of sweat permeated the arena along with deafening, repetitive techno-music.

In a sea of sports bras, from basic gray to bumblebee stripes, hard-bodies and not-so-hard-bodies gyrated to the beat.

Pointing out some of the less-fit hopefuls, Gretchen West, a receptionist for the Ravens who was volunteering for the day, said, "I wouldn't be caught dead in spandex if I looked like that. They'll be weeded out quickly."

But the would-be cheerleaders didn't have a fashion choice. Either biker pants or shorts and sports bras were required, along with being older than 18 with dance experience and in good physical condition.

Three of the male aspirants, relaxing on a blue exercise mat, weren't offended by the women's outfits.

"We're looking at the girls right now," said Elliott Balis, a 22-year-old College Park resident. "But when we're stunting, they might as well be dummies."

As male members of the stunt team, Balis and friends would be responsible for tossing, spotting and physically supporting their female counterparts.

And Lisa Czawlytko, 19, didn't mind their attention.

"They do a lot of lifting, so they're allowed to sit there and watch," the Perry Hall resident said.

Her friend Rachel Eisenhuth, a 21-year-old Towson resident, wore a dark-blue sports bra and shorts with lime-green lining that revealed her bellybutton ring.

After the brief four-person tryouts, some hopefuls were crushed.

Angela Richards, 19, commiserated with friends outside the arena, repeating the routine's dance moves.

"I had it perfectly," said the University of Maryland Eastern Shore student. "When you get in front of the judges, they stare at you really hard and you freeze."

But Richards' disappointment was nothing compared to Heather Crane's. The 26-year-old Baltimore resident injured her knee during the warm-up when she landed wrong after a side leap.

The limping Crane, who recently moved from Miami, where she was a dancer for the Miami Heat pro basketball team, said she's disappointed that she may miss out on one of the few opportunities to be a professional dancer in Baltimore.

She's not looking for sympathy. "I've been doing this too long to get any special treatment," she said.

Neither Crane nor Stankiewicz was invited for the next round of cheerleader tryouts.

Pub Date: 5/10/98

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