NFL

Cheerleading squad ready for action – no matter outcome of CBA negotiations

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The National Football League might be facing a labor lockout, with the players’ union and owners today beginning five more days – and most likely nights – of negotiations aimed at reaching a new collective bargaining agreement. But it’s not just players, owners, coaches and fans who want this issue resolved by Friday so we can get on with preparing for a new season – the league’s cheerleaders are just as keen.

We have been inundated with facts, figures and masses of speculation related to how the $9 billion in revenue generated from America’s most popular sport should be split, as well as the possibilities of an 18-game regular season, changes in health benefits, a rookie wage scale, and pensions for retired players.

There has also been conjecture as to how many players will – if a deal is reached – return for a new season with fitness levels reduced, resulting in a poor quality product throughout the nation’s stadia. But that won’t be a problem for the Baltimore Ravens’ cheerleading squad.

This collection of girls and guys that always have a ready smile come game time at the M&T Bank Stadium, no matter if soaked to the skin from heavy precipitation or almost frozen to the core as snow falls all around them, realize that the show must always go on. They won’t be ill prepared for a new season.

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That is why, in spite of the serious doubts surrounding a 2011 season, the cheerleading squad held its annual open tryouts over the weekend at the Merritt Downtown Athletic Club in Mount Vernon, where approximately 230 women and men were put through their paces in Saturday’s first round.

Heather Blocher – the Ravens’ advertising and marketing coordinator – stressed how, even with negotiations ongoing between the opposing sides and no resolution yet guaranteed, the cheerleading squad cannot ease up on its preparations for next season as it would be impossible to “have a team put together in four weeks and train them to learn the dances”.

Those who are successful and make the squad will “start practicing twice a week in April, so they’ll be ready whenever the season starts” in September – unlike, one suspects, a large proportion of the players.

Similar to any training camp, that initial 230 were cut to 100 for Sunday’s session, when the hopefuls were joined by members of last year’s squad. Having given advice and help to the rookies the day before, they were now battling to retain a place in next season’s squad. It’s not easy being a cheerleader – no one is guaranteed his or her spot. This is a serious business.

Six-year squad veteran Jaime knows this only too well, saying: “Yesterday I was the Pro Bowl cheerleader. Today, I’m not on this team any more. Everybody’s on the same level.” She was, after all, the Ravens’ only representative in Honolulu for the NFC’s 55-41 win against the AFC.

For now, 20 more hopefuls have been cut, with the remaining 80 facing an interview process over the next two weeks, before enjoying, if that’s the right word, an American Idol style final tryout on March 26 at the Sheraton City Center. A final 60 – made up of 20 men and 40 women – will then be announced. The men will form the NFL’s sole stunt team along with 15 women, while 25 women will become the team’s dance squad.

Making the team is a lifetime goal for many. Brittany didn’t get through the tryouts last year and in 2009, but that hasn’t stopped her returning once again as she has a burning desire “to wear that uniform – I want to represent the Ravens”. That is a passion rarely displayed by pro footballers, understandably.

But, no matter her dedication and desire, there is no guarantee Brittany will have a team to support come September. However, with a sunshine smile, Brittany remains hopeful “it’s going to be figured out and I’ll be on that field cheering for the Ravens”. Amen to that, sister.