Thursday, August 30, 2007
by Donna M. Fellows
Dressed in purple, black and white with a raven's head embroidered on his shirt, Shea Hoxie is a professional Ravens football cheerleader.
He is one of 16 professionals in an elite and respected group of male cheerleaders for the Ravens co-ed stunt group.
The concept of male cheerleaders is becoming more accepted and many high schools and colleges now have co-ed cheerleading teams. The only male cheerleaders in the NFL - though the sport was first introduced by men - are right here in Baltimore.
Shea's cheerleading experience began when he was a sophomore at the University of Maryland.
"I wanted to become involved in campus activities," said Shea. "The University of Maryland was looking for a mascot, so I walked across campus to find out more about it and apply. I was told that the mascot outfit probably wouldn't fit me," he said.
At 6 feet 5 inches tall, Shea towers over most people. At the same time, cheerleading tryouts were going on across the gym.
"I figured I walked all this way, I might as well give it a try."
He made the co-ed cheerleading squad his sophomore year at College Park and continued through his senior year.
"It's not as easy at it looks - throwing a girl 30 to 40 feet up into the air and catching her," he said.
That's not the only thing he does. Try lifting a girl into the air and holding her one handed, tossing her in the air and then catching her. "We practiced three times a week and performed for all the home football and basketball games," he said.
For his cheerleading activities in college, Shea received post scholarships which paid for his school books.
Shea said that although he can perform a back-tuck, he doesn't have much tumbling experience.
"I took a trampoline course that was offered in college as a major elective and it turned out to be a lot of fun," he said.
During his senior year in college, the UM cheerleading team won a bid to the NCAA Collegiate Cheer Championship at Daytona Beach, Fla.
"I injured my shoulder three days before nationals and couldn't perform, but I cheered for my team from the sidelines. Words cannot express all the thrill, excitement and energy that fills the area when you're performing for the crowds. I love to hear the ooh's and aah's as we toss the girls high in the air for basket-tosses," said Shea.
One of his memorable experiences was Homecoming at Maryland.
"The flag corps was on the field, and we came running onto the field with the football team behind us. You could feel the vibration of the stadium shake with pride and enthusiasm of the fans cheering you on. Nothing compares," he recalled.
Halfway through Shea's senior year at college, he tried out and made the cheerleading squad for the Baltimore Ravens.
"Training for cheerleading is very physically demanding," said Shea. He and his teammates practice twice a week for three hours. Practice begins with a 3-mile run.
"You must condition daily, or you won't make it in cheerleading," said Shea.
While other athletes lift weights, this cheerleader lifts, throws and catches athletes. He is also surrounded with some of the most beautiful women and has an unobstructed view of the action on the field. He has the best job in the NFL!
Unlike high school and college cheerleaders, who may work all year long on perfecting just one routine to a variety of songs in just 2 minutes, 30 seconds, Shea said Ravens cheerleaders perform a new routine at each Baltimore home game.
Shea and the rest of the cheerleaders arrive at the Ravens Stadium four hours before game time.
They warm-up, practice their routines, meet and greet the fans and perform in front of the Johnny Unitas statue prior to game time.
During the game, the stunt group and the dance team perform and rotate corners of the playing field each quarter.
"It is a great thrill to cheer for the Ravens. Cheerleading is such a unique experience that you can't obtain anywhere else. It's a physically demanding team sport and there are not many co-ed sports available. If you are the only guy on a cheerleading team, you are appreciated even more," said Shea.
This is Shea's second year with the Ravens. As a graduate of University of Maryland College Park with a B.A. in government and politics, and criminology and criminal justice, Shea is now enrolled in law school at the University of Baltimore and is also a sign language interpreter. Both of his parents are deaf, and he is the oldest of six children, four brothers and one sister, all of whom are home-schooled by his mother, Karin.
You can meet Shea and the rest of the Baltimore Ravens Cheerleaders from 6pm to midnight on Sept. 6, at 98 Rock's "Countdown to Kickoff" party at the Power Plant Live in Baltimore.