Five-six-seven-eight, left. Five-six-seven-eight, stop. One-two, kitchen sink.

If you were once the original coach for the Columbus North Pep Steppers, routines were, well…routine. Now that Sue Elliott is enjoying retirement, she still finds herself counting out her daily activities!

In 1977 the Pep Steppers were originally born as a result of Coach Bill Stearman bringing the idea to Memorial Gym. As a friend of Bob Knight and graduate of Indiana University, he thought IU’s Red Steppers brought an added element of entertainment to basketball games. He even had a name picked out for the first crew and hence, the Pep Steppers became a recognized name at Memorial Gym events. The only thing missing was a qualified leader.

Sue Elliott (center) and family

Sue Elliott, of course, was a natural choice. Growing up, her parents loved music. Every Saturday night, the family went to the movies to watch Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, so dancing and music always played a key role in her life. She came to Columbus in 1964 when her then-husband, Mickey Powell, became the first golf pro at Otter Creek Golf Course. They started their family and though not a native, Sue couldn’t imagine ever leaving Columbus.

Around the same time Coach Stearman sold the idea of the Pep Steppers to school administrators, Sue had applied to become a teaching assistant at North. She had a background in dance and was a cheerleader herself in high school and college. Her resume spoke for itself and with Coach Stearman’s support, the Pep Steppers were born – and Sue Elliott became their leader.

“Coach Stearman had a big heart and love for our program,” Sue said. “It saddened him that only 6-8 girls were chosen to be cheerleaders. He wanted to find a way to also include the girls who really wanted to be a part of the program. The Pep Steppers allowed so many more to participate and gain experience in performing before crowds. This pleased him more than anything.”

The new group was publicized without any promise of success. In fact, it was unknown whether or not any girls would try out for that first team. Those worries were quickly laid to rest when 39 gals attended the first practice, and the rest is history. Within two years, there was a varsity squad and a junior varsity.

The program became so popular that Northside Junior High School started their version of the Pep Steppers. Their team was called the Spirits, and Sue helped develop them into an excellent feeder program when the gals became students at North.

Pep Steppers with dummy partners: 1989-90

Throughout those early seasons, it didn’t take long for Coach Stearman to develop a trust in Sue. After all, he had no idea what he was doing when he ordered the first set of uniforms and pom poms. The first set of pom poms the Pep Steppers had were the size of a bushel basket and weighed nearly as much as a full one. By the time Sue left, they shrunk to the size of a softball, making it much easier for the gals to maneuver during routines. He also picked out and ordered the uniforms and quickly learned that it is much more difficult fitting girls than purchasing uniforms for boys. The curves just didn’t cooperate. Coach Stearman needed Coach Elliott!!

The awards and honors earned by the Pep Steppers are too numerous to list individually but there are some significant memories that Sue shared. When the gals were performing at halftime, she would go up near the scoreboard to watch the performance. She was joined once by Assistant Principal Jim Powell, who shared his pride in the group. Sue asked him what he thought about the performance. Her heart sank when he said, “I have only one complaint about the Pep Steppers! Too many people are now staying in their seats at halftime to watch them,” he explained. Sue wondered why that would be a problem until he spoke up, “You all are killing our popcorn sales.” It was the ultimate compliment.

Props were a key component that Sue loved to integrate into performances. During one game, each gal created a life-sized dummy to dance with in the routine. It was one of the most memorable performances and Sam Simmermaker commented on the WCSI broadcast, “Holy Cow! You should see what these young ladies are doing at halftime.”

1989-90 Pep Steppers

The most difficult thing for the Pep Steppers to master was the ability to produce a fresh, new show at halftime each week. They had to create fourteen different performances throughout the season!

In March 1992, 100 years of Hoosier basketball was being celebrated by the IHSAA. As a result, another fond memory developed for Sue. Her friend and colleague, Jo Ann Greenlee, (the administrative assistant for the Athletic Dept.) received a call from the IHSAA one afternoon. She learned that Gene Cato, the Director of the IHSAA, would be visiting Memorial Gym later in the week. She was shocked, however, to learn he wasn’t coming to watch the basketball team. He was there to see the Pep Steppers to consider them for working the halftime show at the State Finals. What an honor for Sue and the program. They were extended an invitation by Mr. Cato to perform at the Final Four and what a performance it was! The whole city of Columbus was proud.

Throughout those Pep Stepper days, Sue was especially proud that her daughters expressed an interest in the team. Her abilities were recognized around town, and she began working on various musicals with the Mill Race Players. In 2003, she directed Oliver and did the choreography for Grease and Little Women.

The Pep Steppers continued through 2007, with several coaches determined to preserve their legacy. Those answering the call to coach were Cheryl DeLap, Gwen Mays, Rosemary Albright, Tracey Stevens, Beth Thayer, Lauren Chasey, and Mandy Shaff. Each brought her own expertise to the group until the team was disbanded in 2007. It was time to end on a high note.

In life, few people can actually say their career was their passion. This was obvious for Sue. The CNHS Pep Steppers would never have soared to the heights they did without her leadership from 1977-1993. She still remembers those days at North and when she retires for the evening. You can almost hear her counting, “one, two, three, four, five right, one, two, three straight, one, two, three, four dive…and into bed she retires for the night.