Little did I know that before binging Netflix’s newest docu-series Cheer, that I’d be completely engulfed in the world of this collegiate sport.
Now, I am no way near calling myself an athlete, but I have been a part of a few elementary school basketball teams and was a touring cultural performing artist for a better decade of my life. But, the incredibly grueling, agonizing yet rewarding team-based camaraderie-building spirit of these teams — of dance teams, athletic teams — is truly one-of-a-kind.
I went to a high school that raved about its streak-defining football team and cheer and dance teams (even so that they made a movie about us), so I’ve kind of seen first-hand how incredibly hard-working these cheerleaders are. But, to actually see what they do? To see what the best of the best cheerleaders in the world actually put themselves through?
They’re right. Who’da’thunk flipping a girl into the air and landing back-bending tumbles on a thin strip of athletic padding was ever safe?
It’s clear from the start of this docu-series that these cheerleaders, based on fourteen-time national champions Navarro Cheer from Corsicana, Texas, are some of the most athletic students in the world.
The series centers around head coach Monica Aldama, a.k.a. the “Queen,” as she takes her students through college and the final Daytona NCA Championship. As the series goes on to explore, the level of respect and admiration these students have for their “mom” is incredibly high, that by the end of it I found myself saying, “Wow, when can I start cheering for Navarro just to have someone like Monica be my Mom, too?”
What Monica and us viewers begin to understand is that these students are more than just the pretty-faced, picture-perfect wealthy cheerleaders we all typically expect. We explore the histories and stories of these kids coming from broken homes — how flyer Morgan Simianer struggled with loneliness and mental health from a broken family; tumbler Lexi Brumback fell into bad patterns and was arrested; stunter Jerry Harris, the team’s positive spirit, lost his mom as a kid; celebrated “cheerlebrity” Gabi Butler seemed perfect but was overwhelmed with outside obligations and a controlling family; and stunter-tumbler La’Darius Marshall grew up bullied for his sexuality.
We see how Monica and Navarro Cheer serves these kids for the better — to become better people, to learn the right skills to be successful as an adult, and take lessons from Navarro Cheer with them through their life (which is something I can highly regard as a kid growing up in dance, as per this blog post).
The sheer athletic ability and effort these athletes have to put in to be a champion in competitive cheerleading is extremely admirable. We have many moments where these kids, in weeks leading up to Daytona, grit their teeth and wrap up their injuries saying, “I’ll do anything for this team and for Monica,” as per Morgan when she risks serious rib injuries, but still continues to perform.
And, Monica’s view of these students is incredibly inspiring to see. “Morgan’s a people-pleaser and she only wants to please,” she continually says, as Morgan was so “raw” and “new” to the world of competitive cheerleading, and much further behind that the other experienced cheerleaders, but came so far with Monica’s relentless belief in her potential. Likewise, when La’Darius acts out in emotional outbursts of frustration and anger — thus leading to many failed partner stunts with flyer Allie — Monica goes to him and addresses his need to be more empathetic.
It’s almost painful to see how much these kids give up for just those two minutes and fifteen seconds of fame on the mat at Daytona. As the series clearly reiterates, “There is no life or career after collegiate cheer.” Most may go on to become cheer coaches, or in the case of Gabi Butler, build her own business from her “cheerlebrity” influencer status. But, most of these kids hit their prime around 18 and endure such grueling injuries, that we wonder, is it even all worth it?
“A lot of people that have reached out to me said they had no idea of the work that we put in,” Monica told PopSugar. “How hard it was, the commitment, the dedication, the grit that these kids have.”
And it’s true. Many may overlook the incredibly grueling physical grind and emotional hardships these cheerleaders undergo. These very real students/athletes/dancers/gymnasts must give their hundred-percent, but also have their own real life problems to deal with.
And what’s most beautiful about the six-episode limited docu-series, is that it highlights the many life lessons, joys and struggles these athletes undergo, but it also changes and brings to light how most of us may see these individuals. And I’m glad.
Since the release of Cheer this past week, the cast has gotten lots of exposure online…
And I’m here for it.