DePue High School was in desperate need for a cheer coach three years ago.
When school officials had no one else to whom to turn, they asked music teacher Tom Miller. He admittedly knew nothing about cheerleading, but took one for the team.
“When they asked me to do it, I said no, like three times. Because I don’t like to do things that I don’t think I’ll do a good job at,” he said. “It got to the point if I don’t do this, they won’t get to cheer.
“So I led the season with that. I was like, ‘I really don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m going to learn along with you guys.’
“And I did a lot of work, trying to find how the cheers went. We had words, but no rhythm or anything like that.”
Miller recruited Delmi Valle, a former DePue cheerleader, to become his co-coach, and together they did a lot of research to up their game.
“We got on YouTube and looked at old videos of basketball games, went through cheers and I’m writing it down in music notation, which everybody thinks is weird,” he said. “At the end of my first year, we made a big video of all the cheers, so whenever I’m done, the next person can see and hear exactly how everything went.
“We put in a lot of time and effort that first year. And since then, we’ve added a little bit, added a little bit, added a little bit. We’re at a point now where we’ve gotten where I personally wanted us to get to.
“My goal when I first started — more cheers, more offense, louder, because I had noticed it was a little sparse when I was here. We had maybe 20 or 30 cheers when I started, and we’ve got about 80 now.”
Miller, who has resigned as teacher and cheer coach at the end of the school year and will leave the teaching field, said he’s found cheering and music have a lot in common.
“I didn’t think there’d be much interest there, but a lot of the stuff in cheer is rhythm and timing and volume and a lot of things that crossover with music,” he said.
Miller can be seen sitting in the front row of the bleachers next to the cheerleaders during games and keeping the beat with his hands.
“Yes, I get a little bit into it,” he said.
DePue senior cheerleader Jasmine Rosales, who was a squad member for her sophomore and senior years, said Miller was a great fit as cheer sponsor. She was glad he changed his mind about taking the job.
“I remember being in his music class when he had mentioned that he was offered the job and he had rejected it. I also remember telling him he should take the job,” she said. “Finishing my last year of my high school cheerleading career, I’ll say that a bond was built between both the coaches and the rest of the girls on the squad. Everyone got along with each other.
“Coach Miller went out of his way to be ‘Coach,’ something he didn’t think he would like to do, and he did a fantastic job! He taught us new cheers and we even did lifts.”
Rosales appreciated Miller’s comments on senior night.
“At our senior night, Coach Miller had a one-on-one talk with every girl on the squad. I don’t know what was said to the other girls, but when it was my turn he told me that the relationship he had with my sister and I was what made him take the coaching job,” Rosales said. “Just imagine being a freshman in high school and changing someone’s mind and then actually liking it. Maybe I haven’t cheered for the four years of high school, but I sure enjoyed being coached by Coach Miller and Coach Delmi.”
DePue basketball coach Charlie Klinefelter said he and the Little Giants appreciated the job Miller and his cheer squad do.
“He does a great job. We love him,” Klinefelter said. “He puts a lot of energy into it. He loves it.
“He has the cheerleaders out there cheering, and we really appreciate him. He does a great job with the girls, and I tell him all the time.”