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Ravens cheerleader tryouts begin, draw 'more glamorous' hopefuls

About 150 women and men that took part in Ravens Cheerleader tryouts on Saturday at the Downtown Athletic Club.

Emily Haskell, a college student from Bel Air, auditioned for the first time, eager to reach what she called "the final step everyone wants to get to in their cheerleading career."

Terri Confair, a government accountant from Washington, was auditioning for the second time, a self-proclaimed nerd by day and dancer by night.

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The two were among 150 women and men that took part in Ravens cheerleader tryouts Saturday at the Downtown Merritt Athletic Club. The throng took up the entire downstairs gym during an afternoon of dance moves, high-kick twirls and gymnastics jumps, with each participant vying for one of 50 roster spots on a squad entering its 18th season. The Ravens had anticipated 100 to 200 participants would audition.

The Ravens cheerleading squad comprises a dance team and a co-ed stunt team. On Saturday, the women outnumbered the men by about 10-1. Even veteran cheerleaders auditioned, as officials said roster spots need be earned each year.

Call-backs and additional tryouts will be held Sunday, Ravens officials said.

William Stokes, a seven-year cheerleader stunt team coach and former Ravens cheerleader, said that the profession has evolved steadily since he was a member of the squad.

"The girls have become more glamorous, the guys have definitely gotten stronger and more talented," said Stokes. "As the skill level has increased in high school and colleges, the level has also increased professionally."

Ravens officials said that cheerleaders must be 18 by April 1. Stokes said the average age of a squad member is about 24. There is no height requirement; the average is around 5 feet, 4 inches. There's also no weight requirement.

"We just make sure they have a fit, athletic look," Stokes said.

Saturday's tryouts included men and women of different ages, shapes, heights and ethnicities. But nearly every woman had one thing in common: hair to the shoulders and below. Ravens officials said that's not by accident; short hair is not preferred, they said.

Stokes said that Ravens cheerleaders practice twice a week, show up for games five hours before kickoff and do appearances during the week. He said cheerleaders are paid on an hourly basis but didn't know how much per hour.

Ravens officials only release the first names of cheerleaders, citing security reasons.

Jessica S., 30, of Baltimore has been on the squad for three years after failing to make it the previous five years.

"The first year I tried out, I didn't go to any clinics, and I didn't know what to expect," said Jessica, who works in marketing at a bank. "After the first year, I only made it to the second day, but each year after that I got further.

"They don't really give you feedback until you get further in the tryout process because there's too many [participants] at this round. My fourth year, I made it to the last round, and I was able to get some very specific feedback, and I worked on those things."

Whitney J., 22, also of Baltimore, is a third-year squad member who happens to be from the West Virginia town Ravenswood. Currently attending Marshall University online, she said she made the team after her first tryout.

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"Mine was a spontaneous decision I made after my sophomore year of college," said Whitney. "I did some research, and I knew the Ravens were where I would fit in."

Haskell, 18, a student at Harford Community College, said she cheered at Patterson Mill High School in Bel Air and became interested in becoming a Ravens cheerleader five years ago, when one of her coaches was a member of the Ravens squad.

Having tried out for the first time, she said, the difficulty of the dance moves was a surprise, as was tumbling on a gym floor.

For Confair, making the team would mark the second time she would perform for a local squad. She previously cheered for the Maryland-based Bay Area Shuckers of the American Professional Basketball League.

Confair said that when she tried out for the Ravens cheerleaders last year, "I felt prepared, but with the number of judges and the set up of the judges, I got a little case of last-minute nerves. But I know what to expect this year, and I feel I've prepared extensively."

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