2011-01-20 / Front Page

Leading the cheer — then and now

Millstone coach compares today’s cheerleading to her teenage experience with Eagles
BY JENNIFER KOHLHEPP Staff Writer


Sharon Peake (left, in white) served as co-captain of the 1982 Millstone School cheerleading squad that rooted for the basketball team. Sharon Peake (left, in white) served as co-captain of the 1982 Millstone School cheerleading squad that rooted for the basketball team. The day that Sharon Peake moved back to Millstone, she had two things on her mind: the moving truck in the driveway and cheerleading practice.

Despite the hustle and bustle of moving day, she made sure her daughters attended their first-ever Millstone Eagles Pop Warner cheer practice. On Aug. 1, 2005, the two Peake girls began following in their mother’s footsteps and leading her back to a passion. Peake, who lived in town during her formative years from 1969 to 1994, cheered at school throughout the 1980s.

“There were no primary, elementary and middle schools back then,” Peake said. “Everyone went to Millstone School. I cheered for the school’s basketball team. We didn’t have Pop Warner.”

Peake served as co-captain of the school’s cheer squad, which had 15 members in 1982 when she graduated from eighth grade.


Sydney Peake, 10, holds the trophy her Millstone Eagles Pop Warner Junior Pee Wee cheer team earned for placing second in the nation at Pop Warner’s national competition in Florida this past season. Sydney Peake, 10, holds the trophy her Millstone Eagles Pop Warner Junior Pee Wee cheer team earned for placing second in the nation at Pop Warner’s national competition in Florida this past season. “It was fun,” she said. “I loved it.”

Peake didn’t make the cut when she tried out for Notre Dame High School’s squad, but that did not end her involvement with cheerleading. Thanks to her daughters, she now lives in a house of cheer all year, every year. When her daughters joined Pop Warner, Peake became a team mom but soon discovered she was unsatisfied standing on the sidelines.

“I wanted to be in there and work with them,” she said.

Peake started coaching the Mitey Mite cheer team and then went on to coach the Junior Pee Wee team for two years and the Junior Midget team this past year. She coached two teams — 2008 Junior Pee Wees and 2010 Junior Midgets — to the national competition in Walt Disney World, where they earned third and second place, respectively. As a coach, Peake emphasizes team building and respect.


Sharon Peake embraces her daughter Lindsay, 12, at the Pop Warner national cheer competition in Walt Disney World on Dec. 6. Lindsay’s Junior Midget squad finished second in the nation this past season. Sharon Peake embraces her daughter Lindsay, 12, at the Pop Warner national cheer competition in Walt Disney World on Dec. 6. Lindsay’s Junior Midget squad finished second in the nation this past season. “You can have the most talented team, but without a cohesive unit that [gets] along, they won’t be successful,” Peake said.

The cheerleading season starts in August with practice four times a week. When school begins in September, teams practice three times a week and cheer at football games on the weekends. Peake and her coaching staff teach the team sideline cheers as well as a routine set to music for the annual competitions.

“Pop Warner sends me to clinics, and I get ideas [for the routine] from there,” she said. “You can also see what you like and don’t on YouTube. The junior coaches, high school girls, come back and help us with choreography. Sometimes we take input fromthe cheerleaders themselves. The longer you’re in it, you know what works and doesn’t work.”

A successful routine has jumps, tumbling, motions, stunts and a pyramid formation, as well as stellar choreography, vocalization and spirit.

“There’s a lot to be judged on,” Peake said. “We have one routine that we continue to tweak throughout the season to make better and stronger.”

At the start of every season, Peake assesses the skills of each cheerleader and decides who will be tumblers, jumpers and dancers.

“It’s a recreation program, so there are no tryouts and everybody gets a spot on the team,” she said. “My job is to highlight everybody’s strengths and give everybody their spotlight time.”

Cheerleading has gotten so popular in Millstone that Peake’s Junior Midget team had 30 girls and seven coaches this past year. That’s a far cry from what she experienced with the school squad.

Cheerleading has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, she said. Girls have traded in saddle shoes, knee-high socks and leotards for white sneakers, no-show socks and cropped turtleneck bodysuits. There are also more pieces to a uniform, with emphasis on vests and hair bows. Some competitive teams even doll up with makeup, but Millstone teams do not, Peake said.

When Peake cheered in the ’80s, cheerleaders did not focus on glitz or glamour, wearing their hair down and simple white and blue uniforms.

“I used to laugh when I would look at the eagle on the uniform,” she said. “It looked like a turkey.”

Her team solely focused on learning hello and sideline cheers, which are still performed at football games today. There were no competitions or choreographed routines.

“There were no routines set to music,” Peake said. “It’s fun to see how far we’ve come.”

Cheerleaders of the past did not perform stunts, while current teams incorporate many flashy gymnastics into their routines.

“When we did cheerleading, it was so basic — cartwheels and round-offs,” she said. “Now there are stunts and they throw girls in the air.”

Millstone Eagles Pop Warner cheer teams display a work ethic and skill level almost incomparable to the cheerleaders of yesteryear. Their determination and dedication have been rewarded with numerous competition medals and trophies. In Peake’s family, Lindsay, 12, has been on a competition team for four years, winning the preliminaries to go up against the top teams in the nation in Florida four times in a row. Sydney, 10, has been competing for two years, with her team making it to the nationals for the first time this past season. PopWarner cheerleaders do not participate in competitions until the Junior Pee Wee level.

Taking a team to compete on the national level at Walt Disney World overwhelms coaches with emotions, according to Peake.

“You’re so excited and trying to calm the girls’ nerves, but you’re just as nervous as they are,” she said. “They work so hard for four solid months for this, and you really only want the best for them.”

Millstone Eagles Pop Warner, which started seven years ago, thoroughly recognizes the cheerleaders’ hard work, Peake said.

“From town to town, you would get a different answer to the question [of whether football and cheer teams are treated equally],” Peake said. “In Millstone, they are treated equally. The cheerleading is so successful that you can’t sweep it under a rug. The football players all work hard. They have been Central Jersey champions and have made it far in the regionals.”

The all-volunteer Eagles program provides phenomenal support to all of its teams, Peake said.

“They never lose focus that it’s always for the kids,” she said .

The Peakes will continue their participation in the program next year. Lindsay will enter her final year in the program and hopes her mother can serve as her team’s coach.

“She’s such a great team player,” Peake said of her daughter. “She really is.”

Sydney has set her sights on becoming a flyer, which is a team member who gets launched into the air during a routine.

“She practices constantly and someday hopes to get her chance,” Peake said.

Peake will continue coaching and may get the opportunity to oversee Lindsay and the rest of the Junior Midget team. She and another coach would also like to start a recreational cheer program in the township.

“We would work on skill building with no pressure of competition,” Peake said. “It would be open to everyone, not just current cheerleaders. Girls could try it out and see if they like it. It would require less commitment [than PopWarner].”

While some men might consider it daunting to live in a cheer house like the Peakes’, Tom Peake has been nothing but understanding.

“He’s such a cheer dad,” Peake said. “He’s at every game, every competition. He’s a good sport about it.”

When the family unpacked and settled intoMillstone, it wasn’t long before they realized they had two new homes.

“With cheerleading, along with any team sport, you become part of another family,” Peake said.

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