By Rich Fisher | Contributing Editor
For decades, she made the St. John Vianney cheerleading program one of the best in the nation.
It’s only fitting that cheers are now ringing loudly for coach Jayne Shalkowski, who passed away suddenly May 21 at age 61.
“SJV lost an amazing woman,” said Kelly Meany, the school’s alumni and public relations coordinator.
For more than 40 years, Shalkowski was a guidance counselor and cheerleading coach at the Holmdel school, and also served as Montclair State University’s cheer coach for 14 years. While she gained fame – which was always deflected to others – for building a cheerleading dynasty, her everyday work as a counselor had a positive influence on countless SJV students.
“I have had the privilege of working with coach Shalkowski for the last nine years,” athletic director Richard Lamberson said. “She was more than an amazing coach, but a mentor and educator to all SJV students.”
Affectionately known as “Mrs. S,” Shalkowski will forever be linked with the school’s overall outstanding tradition of athletic success.
“Jayne Shalkowski was a legendary part of SJV’s history for 40 years,” school president Joseph F. Deroba said. “A dedicated, driven, firm, fair and consistent Catholic educator, guidance counselor and cheerleading coach. She personally interacted and affected the lives of thousands of students during her tenure. Her cheerleading teams have won countless local, state and national championships. She will be missed, but her work ethic and memories she made will live on.”
Assistant athletic director Patrick Smith worked with Shalkowski for nearly 20 years and was impressed by the unending dedication she had for her students.
“She fearlessly advocated for and loved our students,” Smith said. “They were all her children, and I can never repay her for the kindness shown to my student athletes over the years, and especially our son Paddy.”
Lamberson concurred, saying, “She was a caring professional who always put the needs of the students above her own. I cannot put into words how much her presence will be missed.”
On example of putting the students’ needs at the forefront was in 2016. after her team won the national championship in their division. She spoke to The Monitor about the pressure she felt watching the girls perform.
“It is so hard to watch because you can’t help them when they are on the floor; I actually get sick to my stomach,” she said at the time. “But as each piece hits, I get more and more relaxed. When the dance music comes on, I feel excitement, relief, pride.”
She was often smiling by the end of those routines. Shalkowski, who incorporated daughter Staci as her choreographer, led the Lancers to more than 20 national titles and 15 state titles. More than 20 colleges and universities had an SJV grad cheering on their sidelines, including Kentucky, Maryland, Clemson and Seton Hall.
According to Shalkowski, that was all due to a team effort.
“I have been lucky to have talented young ladies that are willing to dedicate themselves selflessly to my program,” she said in a 2015 Monitor article. “My administration supports my program. The cheer parents drive, fundraise, travel and support their daughters to increase their skills, do their best and succeed. My program would not be successful if all of these people weren’t there to support me. It is a tough sport that requires a tremendous amount of hard work and enthusiasm.”
Few worked harder or more enthusiastically than the head coach herself. Shalkowski would often talk of how the cheerleaders were more than just a figurehead at athletic events. She wanted them to be leaders in the school and make an impact. A member of St. Catharine Parish, Holmdel, where a Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated May 24, Shalkowski made sure her program took part in the Catholic Athletes for Christ.
“Obviously I believe in my faith,” she told the Monitor in February 2018. “We pray before everything we do. We pray at every practice, we pray at every competition. Not for anything [like victory], but just for God to guide us, keep us safe and to have a good performance.”
Shalkowski was predeceased by her father, Richard Jeffreys. She is survived by her mother, Harriet, (Glenn) Jeffreys; her husband of 37 years, Bernard; her daughter, Stacie; three brothers; a sister, and many nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations to the American Heart Association, heart.org, are requested.