Busy mom of three has something to yell about

At 38, Molly Shattuck splits her time between family obligations, dinner parties and cheering on the Ravens.

By Abigail Tucker
Sun Staff

August 28, 2005
On the morning of the tryout she was feeling a little "yikesy," which is not a word she uses often. It means afraid. Some 250 young - very young - women sprawled around her on the gym floor, lithe as lionesses. The snakelike hiss of aerosol hairspray filled the air.

This had seemed like such a good idea the night before, at home in Roland Park.

"Go for it," her husband had told her. "We can change our life for you."

He snapped a few head shots while she dashed off a resume of her cheerleading experience. She printed it on purple paper, then glued a rhinestone in each corner.

The name on the top was "Molly S."

Waiting in line at the registration table at the Downtown Athletic Center, she tried not to worry about being recognized, or to picture her husband schlepping diaper bags, or to obsess over crows'-feet or cellulite or - worst of all - to look down at her spandex shorts.

In the mirror at home they had seemed almost risque, but now, as she examined the other would-be Baltimore Ravens stunt girls and dancers, she could see that her pair was old-fashioned - and twice as long as they should be.

An 18-year-old standing nearby was also giving them a long, appraising stare.

After a moment, she said:

"I'm going to wear my booty shorts. You can wear my hot pants."

These were among the kindest words the woman had heard in her 38 years.

A few minutes later, clad in the teenager's minuscule pants, she could focus at last on her stunt. A young man would grip her around the middle, and she would drive all her strength into her legs. If she jumped well, she'd end up 10 feet in the air, standing on his hands. If she jumped really well, she'd be high-kicking one day soon in front of 70,000 fans.

The man behind her took hold of her hips.

"It's been 18 years," she said over her shoulder. Then Molly Shattuck jumped.

When Shattuck started showing up around town in spangled Ravens attire this summer, eyebrows rose. Flagging down middle age with a pair of pompoms is a bold move for any woman, but particularly for a woman like Shattuck. Not only is she the oldest cheerleader in the team's history - this year, the next-oldest is 30, and the average age is roughly 23 - but she's the wife of Mayo Shattuck, the chief executive of Constellation Energy, a Baltimore-based Fortune 500 company. She's also a prominent Maryland philanthropist, a driving force behind benefits for programs such as Young Audiences of Maryland and the Family Tree, and a socialite who routinely throws black-tie dinners for hundreds at her home.

And so what if she looks like Barbie incarnate? She has three children under age 6 to think about.

Yet she is thinking about them, said Shattuck, who is also the only mother on the team. Becoming a professional cheerleader is among her many lifelong ambitions, and fulfilled women, she believes, make better wives and mothers.

As a cheerleader, "I can give back so much more," she said. "I work so hard physically, and it's so fun to bring it back home and share it."

In fact, Shattuck said that - after so many autumns spent playing host to parties in her husband's skybox - it was a maternal emotion that finally brought her onto the field. The coming football season will be the first in seven years that Shattuck isn't expecting a baby or nursing one. Motherhood has been a struggle for her since her first pregnancy, when she went into pre-term labor at a Ravens game. Although she has borne three healthy children, she has miscarried five times. After months of bed rest and the birth of her youngest child, 2-year-old Lillian, she decided not to have more.

Shattuck needed something to take her mind off this unfamiliar sense of emptiness. She considered law school, or mountain climbing.

Instead, she found happiness in a 9-inch purple skirt.

No surprise

With the exception of her husband, Shattuck didn't tell anyone about the tryouts in March. For one thing, she wanted to make sure that her last name didn't influence the judging panel - Mayo Shattuck, who has strong corporate ties to the Ravens, helped sell the team to its present owners in the late 1990s while serving as the president of the investment bank Alex. Brown.

But once she had made it ("Oh, hot mama, you made it," a stunt coach had assured her) and leaked the news to family and longtime friends, no one seemed that surprised. "She always had super energy, super presence," said her mother, Joan George. "She always wanted to just ... go."

Shattuck grew up in Kittanning, Pa., a tiny river town deep in Pittsburgh Steelers territory, where the largest employer was a toilet manufacturer.

Her family, though, was full of showgirls. Shattuck was the middle daughter of a former majorette. Her younger sister was a competitive gymnast who could nail Mary Lou Retton's gold medal vault routine, and later skipped town for Hollywood, where she starred in Billy Idol's notorious music video Rock the Cradle of Love.

As a girl, Shattuck revered her paternal grandmother, a former rodeo rider who still raised quarter horses nearby, and who passed on to Shattuck her golden hair and love of crowds. When she was 16, Shattuck tried on her grandmother's old costume - fringed blue pants and a jacket with mother-of-pearl buttons. "It fit me like a glove," she remembered.

Shattuck emerged as the family dancer, testing out her tap shoes everywhere she could: the carport, the deck of the family's summer cabin, the concrete edge of the backyard pool. By high school she could pick up choreography with astonishing speed and easily made the varsity cheerleading team. "I loved the whole tryout thing," she said. "I loved making it."

She was captain senior year, doe-eyed and adorable beneath a puff of blond curls.

But in other ways, she wasn't the typical pompom girl, and - more than any fight song - this departure from tradition displayed her spirit. She was voted "most popular" in her high school class but never had a serious boyfriend. She was a homecoming queen who skipped the senior prom to hike the Grand Canyon. She had seen older cheerleaders marry young and end up trapped in Kittanning, and so she harbored dreams bigger than dating the captain of the football team.

"I guess I was focused on other things," she said. "I knew I was going to leave. I knew I was going to see the world."

It was at the dusty bottom of the Grand Canyon two decades ago that she listed 10 things to do before she died. Go to college was one - and she did, to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she majored in business administration. "Climb Mount Kilimanjaro," was another goal; so was "do something with orphanages."

And somewhere on the list was "cheer for the NFL."

Professional cheerleading practice looks like the male fantasy that it is: industrial fans, lots of blond hair blowing around. Girls in shorts that make Daisy Duke seem prudish stretch their quads and practice split leaps and pirouettes.

And there's Shattuck, dancing so hard that her scrunchie has slipped to the end of her ponytail, where it swings like a hot-pink wrecking ball. Five-foot-four with roller-coaster curves and a flat stomach, she looks better than some of the 21-year-olds beside her. The cheerleading coaches scoff at rumors that her husband's influence bought her one of the 58 spots on the team.

"Look at her," said Tracy Ricker, the dance coach. "She is the mold."

Past meets present

Only she isn't, always. True, she suffers alongside the other rookies: She has to sell her quota of team calendars, and gets sent back into the locker room for extra blasts of Aqua Net if her hair isn't big enough. She takes her $75 per game pay with the rest of the girls (and deposits it in a charity fund).

But 20 years sometimes makes a difference. Even though Shattuck nailed her tryout, she doesn't perform stunts at games, in part because the coaches worry about the season-long effects of hurling a 38-year-old body into the air. Instead she learned precision dancing, a form that has changed radically since 1988, when Shattuck left her college team a season early for an internship in Washington. Back then, sideline cheering was all fists and elbows and shouted chants; now, particularly on the National Football League level, undulating midriffs and thumping R&B anthems dominate.

Like any sport, "when you're out of it for 10, 12, 14 years, you tend to lose touch," said Tina Simijoski, the head coach. Especially at the first practices, "Molly was very aerobic. She was on the balls of her toes, bebopping and everything. We had to bring her down a level."

Another problem: Shattuck smiles too much, a reminder of a day when cheerleaders bounced instead of smoldered.

"Use your eyes, Molly," the coaches chide.

Mostly, though, her maturity enriches the team. "Mama Molly," the other girls call her, and mean it. She distributes healthful snacks and organizes carpools. At last weekend's exhibition game, when one of the girls felt nauseated, Shattuck crouched on the locker room floor beside her, rubbing the queasy belly with a towel.

"It's infant massage," she explained. "I did it with Spencer," her 6-year-old son.

Most of the cheerleaders have met her children. They've hung out at her house (which one girl correctly described as "gi-normous"), where Shattuck bounces down marble halls as though they were the foam-padded spring floor at practice.

They call her for advice on everything, especially love, because her happiness radiates.

Family package

In the Constellation Energy skybox last week, Mayo Shattuck managed to look both forlorn and delighted, switching from camcorder to digital camera to brand-new binoculars as he searched for a figure four stories down and half a football field away. He could just make out her face above a pair of churning pompoms.

"Just watch," he said. "That smile will never come off."

He was grinning pretty hard himself, flanked by executive buddies, some casting hopeful glances at their own wives.

Last weekend's exhibition game against the Eagles was Molly Shattuck's first major public performance as a Ravens girl, but the family has been immersed in cheerleading all summer. Mayo, 50, speaks with authority about the protocol of cheer captain elections and the rotational order of drill teams. By June, he and the children could recite most Ravens chants themselves.

Molly Shattuck became her husband's second wife in 1997, a few years after meeting him at Alex. Brown, where she worked in marketing. Since then she has stayed at home to become one of Martha Stewart's sexier disciples, baking bread many mornings and cooking dinner each night. In the summer she organizes "Shattuck Family Summer Camp" - a daily slate of nature walks and art projects for the children - and, after putting them to bed, heads upstairs to her own craft room to glue-gun flower wreaths and trim lampshades, or out back to her gym for a multi-hour workout.

With the help of a cleaning lady and her 40-hour-a-week nanny, Shattuck has been able to maintain her routine, but training camp, twice-weekly practices, endless publicity appearances, photo shoots and preseason games have altered the Shattucks' home life. The family's annual trip to their Colorado house was cut in half, and Mayo found himself vacationing at his family's island home in Maine alone.

This fall, the complications will multiply: In one week next month, Shattuck will high-kick her way through a Sunday afternoon game, play host to a golf benefit and two dinners (one for 250 people), dine with Maryland first lady Kendel Ehrlich, attend a black-tie gala for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and show up at practice on time.

The schedule wears on her husband, too. He has to leave the office earlier to help feed the kids dinner.

Yet Mayo Shattuck has been entirely supportive. The joy that his wife gets from cheering is like the euphoria that comes with the birth of a healthy baby - a happiness that money can't buy. "This is so clearly one of her dreams," he said.

And perhaps one of his as well. For years in corporate speeches he had called his wife "my cheerleader," he said, "but it was metaphorical."

More goals

The cheerleaders say Shattuck's a shoo-in for captain next year, but she's not sure that there will be a second season. There's law school to think about. Kilimanjaro awaits, as do the world's orphanages.

Also, even Shattuck acknowledges that there are limits to how many triple turns a woman pushing 40 can do. Sometimes by the end of practice her pompoms feel like dead weight, and her knees ache.

Growing older doesn't scare so much as mystify her. When her grandmother died, she couldn't understand how someone so alive could fade away.

And yet she has vowed to see the process as something beautiful. Aging, she has decided, "is like having a baby. Every stage of life is priceless beauty, priceless experience. I love the tiny little baby, the sitting up, learning to stand."

And later, pencil turns, switch leaps, the splits.