Sunday, November 07, 2004

Compare and Contrast 

Posted by James at 4:37 PM ET

Despite the popular perception, NFL Cheerleaders are not just pretty girls who show up at the game on Sunday. They are accountants and engineers, teachers and students, mothers and a hundred other professions. And most people don't realize the dedication, effort, time, commitment and sacrifice that goes into being an NFL Cheerleader. From the grueling practices to overseas visits to our troops, NFL Cheerleaders do it all with style and grace.

Which makes this story in The Baltimore Sun so distressing. It's about the gals who were the first professional cheerleaders in the NFL when they cheered for the Baltimore Colts 50 years ago. Some of it is very interesting, but then they take shots and today's cheerleaders. You'd think the last people who would stereotype cheerleaders would be other cheerleaders, but you'd be wrong.

From the article:

Miriam "Mim-Mi" Cholewczynski, one of the original 10 cheerleaders, recalled that her sideline job 50 years ago was extremely different from today's NFL cheerleaders.

"It's a beauty pageant now," she said. "We were there for enthusiasm, understood the game."

Barbara Kroeger who cheered for the Colts from 1955 to 1959 says, "We were picked because we enjoyed it, not because we were sexy or beautiful."

Sorry ladies, but today's cheerleaders are there for enthusiasm and they do understand the game. When I was at the Falcons-Redskins pre-season game, I caught Courtney watching the action on the Jumbotron. By the way Courtney is working on her PhD. Last week when I was at the Packers-Redskins game, everytime the Packers were faced with a 3rd down, the cheerleaders dispersed down the sidelines and then rallied the crowd to cheer on the defense. And when the Packers scored their final touchdown and the outcome was no longer in doubt, the smiles all disappeared from the cheerleaders' faces.

Now compare those negative comments to this story in the Salisbury (NC) Post from 2002 on the incredible Shannon McClattie, who is now in her seventh season of being a Carolina TopCat.

Some of the highlights:

She's an amazing woman. You should really read the whole thing.

(Update 11/23) It seems the Sailsbury Post article is not currently online so I am posting it here.

Shannon McClattie’s friends and family say her “found dog” Fluffy is exactly like her.

It never sits down, it just keeps going.

And somehow you just feel better when Fluffy or Shannon are in the room.

The folks who know McClattie have grown accustomed to the whirlwind.

She has a backbone forged of the finest steel and a smile that would stop an offensive line dead in its tracks.

Add an infectious personality and dance moves that would leave Britney Spears in the dust.

Want to talk about tough?

Her mother worked as a corrections officer and her father was an Army drill sergeant. McClattie’s first job out of college was in a Georgia prison.

All this makes her perfectly equipped for her job as an investigator in the Children’s Protective Services division of the Rowan Department of Social Services.

She likes the job so much, she drives an hour each way from her home near Carowinds.

But the biggest achievement in her life has just happened. She is now a mom.

At 33 and single, McClattie adopted a 15-year-old Rowan boy who has been in the foster care program for 12 years. On Dec. 27, her adoption of Jeffrey became official.

And later today, McClattie will complete her fourth year in her part-time job — Carolina Panthers cheerleader.

“Being a Panther cheerleader is no big deal,” said McClattie. “Nobody talks about it.”

It may be no big deal to McClattie, but other folks are more easily impressed.

Her co-workers provide a support group for her, making sure she passes the required weigh-ins. Arlene Taylor, now retired, made sure McClattie resisted those tempting hot doughnuts and other treats.

In turn, McClattie is the in-house cheerleader for co-workers, coming to their aid and lifting their spirits. She’ll lead them in exercises, do a dance skit — whatever is required to melt away the stress.

Kids visiting her office see the pictures of her in the cheerleader outfit, or other pictures of her with her favorite NFL players.

Wendy Baskins, her supervisor at Social Services, said the kids stop in their tracks, and exclaim “Oooh, you’re a cheerleader.”

That usually grabs their attention and gives McClattie an in. With the door slightly ajar, she works to convince the youngsters to pick themselves up, shake off the dark ice that’s encasing their lives and start the climb upward.

“Whatever it takes, she connects with the children,” says Baskins.

McClattie slips easily into teen talk or street lingo.

Hey, if it takes a few dance moves to grab a young girl’s attention, McClattie has got those.

“Britney Spears has got nothing on me,” said McClattie.

“You’ve got more clothes on,” responds Baskins.

It pays for her to be quick while visiting homes to investigate reports of abuse or neglect.

She still has a scar on her hand from a very close encounter with a big dog.

When she arrived for the home visit at the appointed time, she surveyed the yard and spotted a large chained-up husky.

McClattie got out of her car, leaving the door cracked as always. That makes it easier if a rapid departure is needed.

She didn’t know that the dog was on a very, very long chain.

When she headed for the front door, the dog came after her.

She spotted an old pickup parked in the yard and pulled herself up on the hood.

But the dog also jumped on the hood.

With blood flowing from her hand, she screamed and kicked the dog with her spiked heels, hoping somebody would come out of the house.

No one came and the hood was too crowded.

She ran for her car and drove to a nearby store and phone.

She called the home where she had just fled. They told her they had heard the dog barking, but offered no apology.

Once she stopped the blood, she returned to the house to do the investigation.

McClattie’s determination won her an honor as one of the county’s top employees in 2000.

The Rowan County Board of Commissioners found out about McClattie’s work at Social Services during a brief presentation.

Social Services Director Sandra Wilkes introduced McClattie to the board and praised her commitment and extra efforts.

And she shared a story about how tough McClattie can be.

A client, a young girl who was a runaway, stole money from a co-worker’s pocketbook at the Social Services office.

As soon as the theft was discovered, the staff blocked the exits and called police.

McClattie got in the girl’s face and stayed there for nearly an hour as the girl paced up and down a corridor, screaming and fussing.

McClattie convinced the girl to give up the money, and then took her home, stopping by a store to buy toiletries and other items the girl needed.

McClattie realizes that when she goes into a home, she’s perceived as the enemy, somebody that has come to take away a child.

She doesn’t blame the parents. She’s a stranger in their home.

“My job is not to sit in judgment. My job is to determine if there is a problem, not to point fingers, but to assist the family.”

Her oft repeated message to families on the first visit: “What do you know about me? About my job? You see exactly where I’m coming from, then you make your own decision. Judge me on what you know.”

Being a child protective services investigator is not for the timid. She has a game plan for each case.

“The first priority is the child. The child always comes first,” says McClattie. “The key is to be like a buffet, let you pick and choose.”

Somewhere in the buffet, there will be a choice to benefit the child.

She knows a lot about choices and admits some she has made have been surprising.

She majored in criminal justice at Fort Valley State University near Atlanta.

In her first job at Coastal State Prison in Garden City, Ga., she worked in a fast track program for 200 male inmates. Her job was to prepare them for the general prison population.

Later she ran a boot camp inside the prison at another Georgia facility.

With her mother and sister both working as corrections officers, McClattie’s future appeared set.

And then she decided she wanted a change — a change of jobs and towns.

She got on the Internet and started looking for jobs.

And there was the Rowan County child protective services job advertisement. With Rowan County being relatively close to Charlotte, McClattie thought would be a good place to live.

She picked up and moved to Charlotte by herself.

In December of 1997 she landed an interview and got the job with Social Services.

And she still remembers being “scared to death” her first day on the job. She credits her co-workers with helping her to quickly learn the job.

But there was still something missing.

“I didn’t know anybody,” McClattie said. “I wanted to meet people.”

Someone showed her an advertisement for tryouts for Panthers cheerleaders.

She signed up, figuring it would be a good way to make friends. But she didn’t tell her parents.

After she made it through a couple of cuts and was down to the finals, she told her mom, Barbara Moton.

She still laughs about her mother’s reaction.

“You’re too old,” she told her daughter.

That may have provided the final spark, if it was needed.

McClattie wasn’t too old. Out of nearly 300 trying out, she was one of 35 selected.

Once she was a cheerleader, she shared the news with her father, Alexander Anderson. Now retired from the Army, he farms in Carrollton, Miss.

And McClattie has made the cut three times since. She will tell you in a flash, she isn’t too old. This year McClattie is a captain.

The cheerleaders range in ages from 19 to 33.

For five months each year, her life becomes more hurried, with hours of practice, games, shows and lots of travel.

Perhaps trying to save a bit of time, McClattie opted to try a job in Mecklenburg County, closer to home. She quickly realized it wasn’t working out and reapplied to the Rowan Department of Social Services.

“You can’t beat it here,” said McClattie. “Everybody helps out.”

Barbara Griffith shares an office with McClattie at the protective services division on Mahaley Avenue.

“If I can do it, Barbara can,” said McClattie. They use a “tag-team” approach to their cases.

About a year ago, she had a full-time job requiring two-hours of commuting, and a fast-paced role as an NFL cheerleader.

McClattie was getting ready to take on more.

She agreed to mentor foster children and began helping a young boy who has grown up in the foster program.

McClattie worked to help find adoptive parents for him. Several months ago she went with him to meet the adoptive parents. But it didn’t work out and Jeffrey was still in the foster program.

“I heard myself saying ‘I’m interested in adopting him,’ ” McClattie said.

And once she said it, she never had a second of doubt.

In August, 15-year-old Jeffrey moved in and enrolled in Waddell High School.

During football season, life is a bit more hectic, but her mother and sister, Joanna, help out. They live nearby.

Jeffrey is almost the same age as her nephew, Justin who is 13 and like a son to McClattie. He also shares her football fanaticism.

Want to talk football?

In her eyes, Walter Payton is on a level by himself.

She pulls out stack of pictures and shows off her favorites, snapped at every opportunity.

While she’s a fan and a loyal supporter of the Panthers, she admits that Pittsburgh Steeler Jerome Bettis, “The Bus,” is her favorite.

She has a picture of him that was snapped in front of a Miami store.

McClattie and Justin were going into a T.J. Maxx store, when they spotted Bettis coming out. They instantly went into a dance they had created, “Here comes the Bus.”

“The Bus” stopped, laughed, posed for a picture. McClattie said he could not have been nicer.

She also reserves a very high spot for Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers.

He comes by routinely to chat with the cheerleaders.

“He treats us like family, like we’re part of the team,” said McClattie.

She adds that cheerleaders from other pro teams are amazed at the facilities and extras they have.

“Mr. Richardson is the most awesome man I’ve ever met,” said McClattie.

While the Panthers have taken a dive this season, McClattie is enjoying the best of times.

She’s had an extended Christmas celebration in her new role as mom.

And who knows — the Carolina Panthers may have a winning team and 34-year-old cheerleader next year.