Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Damascus cheerleaders chosen for Bayhawks squad

E-mail this article \ Print this article

Photo courtesy of Bayhawks Cheerleaders
Robin Hodgson (left), 10, of Damascus, Caitlyn Nelson (center), 12, of Damascus and Kristen Munyer (right), 13, of Damascus practice their moves as members of the cheerleading squad for the Washington Bayhawks, a professional lacrosse team. The girls are also members of the Damascus Sports Association.
Ten-year-old Robin Hodgson has wanted to be a professional cheerleader since she was a small child, but she did not expect her dream to come true before she entered middle school.

Robin, of Damascus, is one of 19 members of the Damascus Sports Association who recently became cheerleaders for the Washington Bayhawks, a professional lacrosse team affiliated with the Major League Lacrosse Network, which was launched in 2001 and now has 10 teams across the country.

Formerly known as the Baltimore Bayhawks, the team represents the Washington, D.C, region and plays most of its home games at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

‘‘It is just amazing that it is professional and it is the real deal,” Robin said.

During a recent practice at Cedar Grove Elementary School, the cheerleaders twirled, jumped and kicked in unison in preparation for a match the next day — their third opportunity to cheer for the team. The Bayhawks lost to the Philadelphia Barrage, 14-13.

The girls cheer during the game and also present a halftime show. The games usually draw more than 2,000 spectators, said cheerleading Coach Brenda Salas

Salas said she has been impressed with the progress of her squad.

She is also the coach of the Damascus Sports Association’s poms squad and was a Washington Redskins cheerleader in the late 1970s.

The Bayhawks contacted Salas in March to ask her to put together a young cheerleading squad to boost ticket sales and promote family values.

She was chosen because her fiancé, Marty Lattman, is affiliated with the lacrosse world and she has experience as a Redskins cheerleader, she said. Lattman was the president of the Damascus Sports Association 10 years ago and helped start the organization’s lacrosse program, Salas added.

Salas said she did not have time to hold tryouts before the team’s first home game on May 24, so she asked cheerleaders that she already knew if they wanted to be a part of the squad. Most of the members of the Bayhawks cheerleading squad are also members of the Damascus Sports Association’s poms squad.

The squad has been holding practices at least twice a week since late April.

‘‘They are learning the qualities of leadership and they are learning to have greater self-esteem,” Salas said. ‘‘It has really expanded their world.”

She said that Bayhawks fans were puzzled when the young cheerleaders made their debut, but they have since embraced the cheerleaders.

Monica Glaze of Damascus said she remembers watching her daughter, Natalie, 12, perform during the first home game.

‘‘It was very impressive,” Glaze said. ‘‘I was very proud. We didn’t know what to expect at first.”

Her daughter has been a part of the Damascus Sports Association for six years. She would like to start a dance studio when she grows up.

Natalie said that cheering for the Bayhawks has been an incredible experience.

‘‘I enjoy dancing,” she said. ‘‘It is my favorite thing to do.”

Megan Kirby, 14, of Damascus also said that cheering for a professional sports team has been a wonderful opportunity.

‘‘It is something I didn’t think I would get the chance to do,” Kirby said.

Pat Hodgson of Damascus, the father of Bayhawks cheerleaders Robin and Alison, 13, said he might be even more excited about his daughters cheering for a professional team than they are.

‘‘I think it is the best thing that happened to their self-esteem,” Hodgson said. ‘‘They feel important.”