Warren County grad set to retire as stuntman for NFL cheerleading team
By Alex Bridges
Chris Traczyk may have "the best job in the world" hoisting Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders in the air.
Traczyk, 37, a graduate of Warren County High School, performs on the stunt team for the only franchise in the National Football League with co-ed cheerleaders.
The Ravens play the New England Patriots on Sunday night for another shot at American Football Conference title and the Super Bowl in New Orleans. Traczyk and his fellow cheerleaders plan to gather as they usually do for away games and cheer for the team on Sunday, likely following superstition and tradition by wearing purple socks and shirts.
The group did the same for last week's game against the Denver Broncos that ended with a "nailbiter" victory.
"I don't think there was a dry eye on the whole team because we're just so happy and excited," Traczyk said.
Traczyk's parents, Richard Traczyk, a member of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, and Carol, have been his biggest fans in the seven years that he has been a part of the team, which consists of 40 women and 20 men.
More than 300 men and women try out for the group in March, Traczyk said.
"I'm very fortunate and feel very lucky to be part of the organization," Traczyk said, adding that "it's very time-consuming, but you take a lot of pride in helping the community."
Cheerleaders perform off the field and make appearances at hospitals and for nonprofit agencies such as Ronald McDonald Houses as well as at local businesses.
"You try to put a smile on everybody's face," Traczyk said. "Of course, we always do our stunts in front of 70,000-plus fans at Ravens home games.
"It's a real unique experience because each year we do this we get to meet famous people," Traczyk added.
Cheerleaders don't perform for the money. Traczyk said he makes $100 per game. The part-time cheering job takes a full-year commitment, though. Tryouts start only a few weeks after the Super Bowl, followed by training and practice that continue throughout the year until the end of the post-season. Cheerleaders practice twice a week for three to four hours, and each session begins with a 3-mile run, according to Traczyk.
"It's pretty physically challenging and you've got to maintain your physical shape, maintain your full-time job and maintain your full-time practice schedule," Traczyk said. "It's physically demanding throughout the season and the hardest thing is keeping healthy and make sure you don't get hurt."
Traczyk played baseball, basketball and ran track for Warren County schools.
"I can probably say I get more hurt cheerleading by catching girls that are falling out of the sky at 30 feet in the air, get broken fingers, get stitches in the forehead, chipped teeth from an elbow nabbing you," Traczyk said. "But in the end it's all worth it. Some of the memories I'll take with me are just unforgettable."
The Ravens' successful season and the fact the team made it far into the playoffs means less time for cheerleaders to recuperate, Traczyk noted.
At the beginning of tryouts, coaches instruct new recruits on what to wear, how to look and evaluate candidates for the cheering team.
He said the best part of his job is "being around all these beautiful ladies."
Traczyk still gets teased when he tells people he performs as a cheerleader for the Ravens. Teasers often change their tune.
"Then once they see you in appearance with a girl and the girl's walking around with you and looking all nice, they're like, 'Wow, man, you have the greatest job,'" Traczyk said. "I say, 'Yeah, I could've told you.'"
Traczyk sees more to the job than just working with cheerleaders.
"The best thing is you're on the field," Traczyk said. "You almost get hit by some of the plays. A couple of times the ball comes out of bounds and you get to catch the ball. Some of the players will come over and almost roll right on top of you and they're that close you get to hear the banter between the players."
Traczyk's entry into cheerleading began while he attended James Madison University. Traczyk recalled that while watching cheerleading practice one day their coach asked if he wanted to try out. After three female cheerleaders begged him, he tried out.
Traczyk's mother recalled that her son, after graduating from JMU and moving to Baltimore, saw an advertisement for cheerleading tryouts. He made the team and continued to do so each year.
"He's the one that throws the girls up in the air," Traczyk's father said. "What he does is all the tricks and throws them up and builds the pyramids and that sort of stuff.
"It amazes me how he lifts all the girls up over his head -- with one arm," his father added.
But Traczyk, after seven years of hoisting cheerleaders in the air, says his days of taking elbows to the teeth or blows to the head come to an end after this season. Traczyk said he plans to retire from cheerleading this year, making it all the more important to him that the Ravens go to the Super Bowl.
"He keeps saying the girls are getting heavier, but I think he's just getting older," Richard Traczyk said.
Chris Traczyk said he plans to retire the same time as veteran linebacker Ray Lewis.
"I'm going out with Ray Lewis," Traczyk said. "I think that's the best way to say it. I'm kind a happy about that. ... He's been a huge inspiration on everybody in the city and he does a lot of good and I'm just happy for the guy."
Cheerleaders Director Tina Galdieri said the team will be sad to see Traczyk leave.
"He's a great guy," Galdieri said. "He's been a great cheerleader."
Traczyk also serves as a leader and a role model not only to rookie cheerleaders, but also to members on the team for two or three years, Galdieri noted.
"His maturity and his leadership inside the team has been really valuable to me," Galdieri said.
Traczyk works full time as an information technology specialist for the city of Baltimore and performs as a deejay on the side. He performed on "Purple Friday" as part of the city's Ravens events downtown that day.
"I'm just kind of tired and it's taking me a little bit longer to heal," Traczyk said. "I feel I could go another season or two, so I'm going to try to get an inside position and hopefully they'll let me do something, possibly in marketing or run the soundboard, something where I'm still involved and see the Ravens play."
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org