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Dream Job

Baltimore Ravens cheerleader candidate Molly Shattuck was only answering an innocent request. Asked during an interview to tell the judges a little something about herself, Shattuck’s response was so shocking that a woman on the panel gasped audibly:

“I’m thirty-eight years old, and I have three children.”

The 1989 IUP graduate now laughs at the effect her stunning revelation had on those present.

“There was this man who was probably in his fifties—he just sat there beaming,” she said. “They were all smiling. Some of them lit up like a Christmas tree. I don’t know if they were excited or what.”

Molly's Baltimore Ravens trading card

Shattuck's Baltimore Ravens trading card

Shattuck certainly was excited after she endured a rigorous tryout process and defied odds longer than a Siberian winter to make the squad. She debuted during the Ravens’ nationally televised season opener against Indianapolis on September 11, flashing a megawatt smile while performing intricate dance moves in fulfillment of a dream first articulated two decades ago.

“My senior year in high school, my mom and sister and I hiked the Grand Canyon,” Shattuck said. “On that trip, I decided to come up with this list of things I wanted to do in my life. On it, among other things, was to become an NFL cheerleader. But the whole time the Ravens have had cheerleaders [since 1998], I’ve always been pregnant or nursing. This was the first window I’ve actually had, so I decided to try out.”

Never mind that the former Molly George had last cheered eighteen years before, while at IUP. Or that many of the other candidates were born after Britney Spears. Shattuck seemed as out of place as a maitre’d at McDonalds. She fits into her skimpy outfit better than she fits the profile of the typical NFL cheerleader.

Not that there’s anything at all typical about Molly Shattuck. Husband Mayo calls her Wonder Woman, because she’s able and willing to tackle just about any endeavor, even one as challenging as making the Ravens’ squad at age thirty-eight. Once his wife resolved to try out, Mayo became something of a cheerleader himself.

“He’s been very supportive and encouraging,” Shattuck said. “He knew it was on my list of things to do. We had talked about it on and off for a long time. In January, I told him, ‘I think I want to go for it this year and see what happens.’ My attitude was, why not try it? What do I have to lose? I knew if I didn’t try, I might regret it for the rest of my life.”

So she appeared at the initial tryout—five cuts were made before the squad was finalized—along with 262 other candidates, having already dodged one bullet: Shattuck nearly missed her long-awaited opportunity. Mayo called her in Florida with news that the first tryout was scheduled for two days later, not a few months hence, as Molly had believed. She rushed back to Baltimore.

“Between that Thursday evening phone call and Saturday morning, there were many times when we said to each other, ‘I don’t think this is going to work,’ ” said Mayo, the chairman and CEO of Constellation Energy, which is headquartered in Baltimore. “She hadn’t really prepped for any tryouts. But she’s kept active, she’s fit, and I knew she could dance phenomenally well. She finally said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ On Friday night, we sat down and did the required résumé and photographs and so forth. I took photos of her in the bathroom, because a gray wall gave us a good background. She needed a face shot and a full-body shot, supposedly in a bikini. So we have what will go down in history as a great bikini shot taken in the bathroom.”

Molly and her children

Molly and her children

The application and snapshots landed on the desk of Tina Simijoski, the director of the Ravens’ cheerleading squad. She was unfazed by the number Shattuck noted beside “age” on the form, but another number did give her pause. Could Shattuck, she wondered, care for three children—Spencer, six; Wyatt, four; and Lillian, two—and still devote sufficient energy to cheerleading?

“I really didn’t have a reaction to her age, because there are a lot of thirty-eight-, thirty-nine-, forty-year-olds that are in great shape,” Simijoski said. “My worry wasn’t so much the fact she was thirty-eight. It was the three kids and having that responsibility of raising a family. Could she still, once she made the team—if she made the team—work within the time limitations that we have for a cheerleader?”

After all, squad members have commitments beyond spending Sundays on the sidelines at M&T Bank Stadium. They make appearances in the community, at charity and corporate functions, fundraisers, even birthday parties. Sometimes they rub elbows with Baltimore’s elite.

“At one stage of the tryout process,” Mayo recalled, “the coaches got all the girls together and said, ‘When you come in for your interview, you have to be dressed professionally. You’re not supposed to look like a cheerleader. You’re supposed to look like a professional. There are a lot of appearances, and you have to learn how to talk to millionaires.’ I thought that was a funny line.”

You see, charity work regularly brings Molly into contact with Baltimore’s movers and shakers. She serves on the board of the Baltimore School for the Arts and recently cochaired a silver anniversary celebration that raised in excess of $500,000. Shattuck has also chaired events for United Way campaigns and for Family Tree, a child abuse prevention organization.

But securing a sizable contribution never generated the kind of rush she got from joining the Ravens cheerleaders, who average twenty-three years of age. Shattuck was positively floored when she ultimately earned a place on the squad.

“I screamed. I cried. To me, making each cut was a huge accomplishment,” she said. “The final cut was at the [Ravens’] training facility. They told us, ‘We want you to pack your bags and walk outside into the hallway. If you see your number up on the board, that means you made it. Come back in. If you don’t see your number, keep walking.’ My number was there. I calmly walked back in and sat down. Then, I just started shaking.”

Shattuck was officially an NFL cheerleader, a rookie at the ripe old age of thirty-eight. Not that Simijoski was all that surprised.

“Molly has really dynamic energy,” she said. “There’s a really youthful side to her. Plus, she’s beautiful. She has an all-American look. She’s even been a role model for the rest of the squad. One, with the issue of her age, and two, with her raising a family and taking care of a husband as well as cheerleading. She proves you can do it all.”

The number of candles on Shattuck’s last birthday cake might have suggested that her chances of making the squad were slimmer than Olive Oyl. Yet, she was undaunted.

“I’ve had so many people tell me, ‘You are such an inspiration, because you show us you can go for your dreams at any age,’ ” Shattuck said. “I have a friend who came up to me and said, ‘I just entered my first swimming competition since high school.’ She’s my age. So it has made people reflect on their own lives and think about their dreams.”

Because Shattuck refused to abandon hers, she now works as an NFL cheerleader. In fact, Molly Shattuck is arguably the most extraordinary member of that exclusive club.

For the odds are long—yes, longer than a Siberian winter—that any others are thirty-eight years old with three children.