By Samantha Gorman
Colleen Meyers steps down as the Spotswood High School cheerleading coach after 28 years due to health complications.
“The daily ins and outs of coaching were becoming problematic. My priority is being a teacher. It just got to the point where I had to think about what’s fair and what’s right for the girls,” Meyers said.
Meyers’ presence is strong at Spotswood High; the Social Studies teacher is not only the cheerleading coach, but is the mastermind behind Spirit Week, a class advisor, and runs the annual Mr. Spotswood competition.
Despite her high involvement and energy, Meyers has been dealing with major health issues behind the scenes.
Diagnosed with cancer in 2014, she successfully fought the disease while balancing the daily life of teaching and coaching.
“I went through chemo and still coached. I went through radiation and came to school that day,” Meyers recalls.
While she celebrated six years of being chemo-free in July, Meyers was hospitalized in May due to a new complication that she believes is stemming from her treatment, leading to her difficult decision to step down from the coaching position that she held for almost 30 years.
“It was a lot harder than some of the medical decisions I had to make for myself, to be honest. [My athletes] are my heart and soul,” she said.
The teacher who confidently jokes about being shorter than most of her students always knew that she wanted to work in a high school. Coaching was always a part of her vision, as well.
A former cheerleader herself, Meyers has only spent a few months away from the sport since she was in the sixth grade. She continued to compete throughout high school and college, finding herself on a co-ed team at Millersville University.
“I had a gymnastics background and a dance background, but [the sixth grade is] where I fell in love with cheerleading,” she said.
When Meyers was hired at Spotswood High School, the head cheer coaching position was filled already. As if by fate, eight months later the position opened up and the rest is history.
“When the big debate happens about whether or not cheerleading is a sport, the only people that you’re hurting are the girls who are involved in it and who see value in what they do.
“It’s athletic, it involves gymnastics, you’re lifting people in the air, you’re in charge of your teammates’ safety. It has all the components of every team sport,” Meyers said.
Throughout her 28 years, Meyers has coached her teams through many successful competitions, like the Greater Middlesex County tournaments. Despite the tangible success she has seen, “what stands out to me the most are those relationships I’ve created,” she said.
“I still talk to girls who were on my first team. I was only 23 when I took over cheerleading, and I’m teaching some of their kids now. It is sweet to have those relationships sustained,” she said.
The impact Meyers has had on her athletes is evident, and she was able to see a glimpse of it when she announced to her alumni Facebook group her resignation.
“All these professional women, girls living in Canada, girls living across the country – just to read these beautiful things they wrote to me – it really was a highlight,” she said.
Meyers is making sure that she is staying involved in the school in other, less time-consuming ways.
“I always find something to do,” she said. “It’s usually revolving around what the kids will enjoy the most.”
In both her classroom and on the field, Meyers said she places an emphasis on enjoyment. In discussing her teaching and coaching style, she explained that she tells her students and athletes, “I want you to laugh throughout our class. I want us to laugh at cheerleading practice.”
She tries to maintain a lighthearted, clear and confident tone.
“I went to prom the day I got chemo,” Meyers said, chuckling at herself.
A colleague once told Meyers, “Everybody thinks you need to take time for yourself.” Her recent hospital experience forced her to look back on how much she juggled while going through chemotherapy; Meyers has finally come to the same conclusion herself.
“I did those types of things and I pushed and I pushed. I think now my body is telling me, ‘Colleen, you just have to slow down,’” she said. “There are priorities in life that, sometimes, have to take precedent.
“It’s been 20-something years since I’ve been skiing. So maybe I’ll go skiing in the winter. Or maybe I’ll be able to drive up to see Sussex County when the foliage is changing,” Meyers said of her anticipated lighter schedule, with a laugh. “I’ve got my dog, I’ve got my guy. It’ll be a little bit of ‘me time.’”
Meyers will be passing the torch to Jaclyn Cassidy, a byproduct of Spotswood High School cheerleading. With less required from her, Meyers plans on being a volunteer coach to stay connected to the sport that she and her girls are so passionate about.
“Everybody has their passion. I think it’s important to let everyone just figure out what [it] is and let them pursue it. That’s what my parents did for me and that’s what I tried to do with all my girls,” she said.