Following the winding halls of the facility past the dining area, billiard rooms, physical therapy rooms and various other amenities, the cheerleaders walk to their practice. Stepping through a set of windowless double doors at the end of a long corridor leads to quite a surprise: a full-size indoor NFL football field.
The cheerleaders are already stretching and changing into their practice uniforms, preparing for their three-hour practice. After stretching, the cheerleaders break off into the two teams. The stunt squad moves to the middle of the field with their coach, Napolean Martinez, to practice basket tosses, pyramids and partner stunts to perform at the games. The dance squad moves over to the end zone with their coach, Tracey Ricker, to work on their new combination for the next home game.
Tina Simijoski, head coach and director of the team, enters the practice facility and engages in a seemingly intense conversation with some of the team members. Her responsibilities include organizing the practices, performances and all other business aspects of the team.
“I oversee the whole program,” she said. “I oversee the two coaches and I organize all the appearances, do paperwork, and order uniforms. I set up training camp, set up practices… I report to the front office with any problems, issues, concerns. I get in there and coach every once in a while, but my assistant coaches pretty much know what they need to do.”
The stunt team is made up of both men and women. All members are required to dance and tumble as well as perform college-level stunts. Rob, one of the men on the stunt squad, also coaches the cheerleading squad at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore . He loves cheering at home games for the Ravens.
“My favorite part about being on the team is being on the field cheering on Sundays,” he said.
The dance and stunt squads perform two routines together in the end zones at each game. The stunt team throws stunts in the back while the dancers perform a routine in the front. During game-play, both the dancers and the stunt squad break up into two dance squads and two stunt squads. Then each of the four teams performs for the fans in one corner of the field.
Martinez watches over the squad at practice as they perform their latest stunt sequence for the upcoming game. He yells out the counts as the men throw the women into pyramids two and three people high.
Martinez has since retired from the team, leaving Simijoski to coach in his place until a replacement has been found.
As the stunt squad works on perfecting a series of pyramids and basket tosses, Ricker teaches the dance team some new choreography. Even though Ricker makes the team execute the same moves again and again, the team performs each count with unwavering precision and enthusiasm. Every member really looks as if she is happy to be there, giving up her free time.
One of the dancers, Courtney J, was especially energetic. Courtney has been on the squad for six years, which is longer than most of the other women.
“It's one thing to perform, which I love,” she said. “I've been around for six years. And I wouldn't have stuck around if it weren't for the people that surround me. This is a family away from family for me. My family is in Virginia Beach so the only family I have up here are the Ravens. So they have become that second family to me.”
Another one of the dance team members, Molly S, has been in the news a lot lately. She tried out for the team and made it just like everyone else. The catch… she is 38 years old and has three children.
The Baltimore Sun, The Today Show and several other major media outlets have covered her. Tina Simijoski explains that the attention given to her by the media has also brought a lot of positive attention to the team.
“We've had a lot of national press. She's also a part of the team where the Ravens are kind of put in the limelight,” she said. “We're young team still, so I don't know how nationally recognized we are. But after this year we are definitely more on the map.”
Pulling it Together
After the stunt squad works on preparing their stunt sequences and the dance team perfects their combination, it is time to put it all together.
The music comes on and the two squads take the field as one team. The stunt team throws their pyramids and basket tosses in the back of the end zone while the dance team takes center stage. Tina Simijoski explains that although the two teams practice separately, they are very much one solid team.
Simijoski overseas the entire squad and makes sure the routines come together and that both squads work together as one team. During the practice, Simijoski also sits on the sidelines watching the squad rehearse and dealing with business aspects of the team.
“Cheerleading is my passion,” she said, “but I think my favorites are the personalities and the people on this team make it fun. They keep you in check, they keep you on your toes. It's just a fun job. It's definitely something that I don't take it for granted.”