Maryland native and former Baltimore Ravens cheerleader Stephanie Brooks is finding life interesting living deep in Pittsburgh Steelers territory.
As a first grade substitute teacher at South St. Marys Street Elementary School, Brooks has brought her Ravens spirit to the school, where her classroom is decorated in her team colors of black and purple.
"It's been in my blood since I was young to not like the Steelers," Brooks said. "Here in the elementary school, I love it because the kids are so friendly with it. They think it's kind of odd but cool since I'm from Baltimore and like the Ravens. It's kind of cool to be unique."
Brooks and fellow SMASD teacher Elaine Lee, an avid Steelers fan, have created a friendly, ongoing rivalry between their classrooms and students.
On Friday, Brooks' students were clad in purple and black and carried around cutout Ravens logos on sticks as they traveled throughout the school, with Brooks leading them in her Ravens apparel, complete with her gold and yellow pom pom.
"It's a huge rivalry. The Steelers are an amazing team. It was a tough game," Brooks said of Saturday's playoff match between the two teams, which the Ravens lost, 31-24.
As part of their rivalry, Lee and Brooks agreed that whomever's team lost would have to announce their allegiance to the opposing team for the duration of the playoffs each Monday morning during school announcements.
"Some of my students didn't really know a lot about the Ravens before I came here. If they know their teacher likes it, then they like it, too," Brooks said.
Now residing in Ridgway, Brooks is a recent transfer to the area from her hometown of Glen Burnie, Md., approximately 15 minutes from Baltimore.
Brooks only recently retired her pom poms, having cheered for the Ravens for two years.
"It's something you'll always remember. You have pictures to show your kids," she said. "Here in St. Marys, they're not used to having somebody like me around, and the kids love it and the teachers love it. It's a lot of fun; I really like it."
The Ravens cheerleading organizations is comprised of two separate squads: a dance team consisting of 25-30 women, of which Brooks was a member; and a stunt team, consisting of 15 women and 20 men. Both squads perform as one unit during all of the team's home games.
Upon graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park, Brooks decided to renew her love of cheerleading and try out for the team.
"After college I decided to try out to give me something extra to do. I made it on (the team) and it was a great time," she said. "There's 300 girls that try out for 40 to 45 spots, so you definitely have to have talent and be dedicated."
The squads participate in a three-day cheerleading camp, usually held in June, which Brooks said involved "nonstop running, cheering and dancing."
Their typical twice-weekly practices, which ran from April through January, began at 6 p.m. with a three-mile run, followed by three hours of continuous dance rehearsals.
"I was really lucky and fortunate to be able to stay in shape to do it," Brooks said. "The training regime was extremely, extremely intense."
Each of the 10 home gamedays consisted of arriving at the stadium five hours prior to the start of the game. Following a practice session, squad members made numerous appearances around the stadium interacting with fans, attending tailgates and showcasing their skills with mini-performances.
During game time, cheerleaders performed nonstop for four hours, including during pre-game and halftime.
"You're moving and screaming the entire time, not just standing around. It looks like it might be easy, but it's definitely not. It's a very tiring and exhausting day," Brooks said.
Following the game, cheerleaders also put in extra hours selling their team's calendars.
Brooks explained when she was on the squad, the average age range of her teammates was between 22 and 26 years old.
"We actually had the oldest NFL cheerleader several years ago. She was 42, and decided she wanted to go back because she was a dancer when she was younger. She was in really great shape and was an amazing and really nice person. She was on squad for two years," Brooks said.
Outside of their activities inside the stadium, Ravens cheerleaders also participate in approximately 20 public appearances each season, many of which take place around the city promoting the team by helping to pump up the fans for gameday and handing out free merchandise. Cheerleaders also work with local charities.
When she was on the squad, Brooks and her teammates gathered every Wednesday at a center for cancer patients. There they hosted numerous themed party nights for the patients.
"We were all required to do some sort of charity work, but most of us did more than what was needed," she said.
Brooks emphasized that being on the team was a major time commitment, as cheerleaders are required to have either a full or part-time job, be currently attending college or have a family. They must also possess a high school diploma or have a GED.
As stated on the Baltimore Ravens website, cheerleaders are paid $100 per game and on a per-hour basis for appearances.
She added that contrary to what people may think, NFL cheerleaders "definitely do not hang out with football players." This is stated in the cheerleaders' contracts, and they can be fired as a repercussion.
"They're very serious about it," Brooks noted.
As a loyal Ravens fan, Brooks said her favorite player is linebacker Ray Lewis, #52.
For more on this story, see the Jan. 17 edition of The Daily Press.