As a former high school football player and professional mascot, Ken Martin always received a special feeling from firing up a crowd.
That feeling inspired the 25-year-old Glen Burnie native to assemble and mold a talented troop of county residents into one of the premier cheerleading teams in the state.
Martin, a 1985 graduate of Glen Burnie High and former defensive tackle on the school's football team, is the founder, director and captain of the "Maryland, You Are Beautiful" zTC cheerleading squad, a team of 19 females and six males ages 14-25.
"I first got into being a mascot and cheerleading by looking at the national high school competitions on ESPN. Then, I said to myself, 'Boy, that looks like fun.' When I got into mascoting, I really started getting into getting the crowd going," said Martin.
Martin's curiosity landed him mascot jobs for the Baltimore Skipjacks (Skipper Jack/Zack the Jack), the Baltimore Blast (Fuzzy the Fuse) in 1985 and the Baltimore Orioles (the Bird, 1986).
Last weekend, the team conducted a clinic at the Harvey Garcelon Complex (formerly Kinder Park) in Severna Park for beginning, intermediate and advanced cheerleaders -- a venture that Martin says was well-received.
"I'd say the camp went very well. It wasn't bad for being the first one. We had about 30 kids show up, and some of them came there with no experience whatsoever. A couple of 8- or 9-year-old girls didn't even know how to clap right, but they eventually learned," Martin said.
"I think everyone was happy with it. I know the kids were happy, and I even went up to some of the parents to see how they liked it. There weren't any negative responses at all, which is kind of nice for the first time.
"We're planning to do another clinic in September. Plus, we're planning on hosting another competition in November."
Martin started the team six years ago with his own money, with the help of the "Baltimore is Best" Program representative Floraine Applefeld. The team has been designated Maryland's official cheerleaders.
"It's pretty hard to keep a team going for six years. You always have to worry about fund-raising. I think it's even more expensive to maintain than football," said Martin.
In the past year, the squad has gained quite a bit of notice by performing in parades, telethons, the county and state Special Olympics and competitions.
It placed first in the 1991 Ocean City Christmas Parade and second in the recent Preakness Parade -- and has received an invitation to cheer at the Aug. 27 National Football League exhibition game between the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints at Memorial Stadium.
"I'm really excited about cheering at the game. It should get us even more exposure because it'll be on national television [ESPN]," said Martin, a freshman marine biology major and football/basketball cheerleader at the University of Maryland at College Park.
Before the football game, the team will travel to New Jersey to compete in the Rutgers University Cheerleading Camp Aug. 10-13.
There, team members will go up against top-flight contingents such as Penn State, the University of Miami (Fla.), Rutgers, the University of Florida and George Mason University (Va.).
"They'll be some really good teams there, but there are different divisions, so I think we can do well," said four-year Archbishop Spalding High School cheerleader Jenifer Quarantillo, who will cheer at the University of Maryland.
Other members who cheer at four-year schools include: George Mason University's Ashley Boudris (North County), University of Maryland-Eastern Shore's Thomasina McCoy (North County), Methodist (N.C.) College's Stephanie Thomas (Archbishop Spalding), Morgan State University's Cheryl Sewell (Andover) and former Purdue University cheerleader and Chesapeake High gymnast Tom Reitz.
Frank Mazorowski, a Chesapeake and ex-Montgomery-Rockville College gridder, is another football player who turned cheerleader.
"Some people don't think of cheerleading as being a sport, but an extracurricular activity," Martin said. "But it takes athletic talent, coordination, proper technique and timing. We're trying to get rid of the stigma that the sport has, especially with guys."