I just finished watching Cheer. If you aren’t familiar with the show, it’s a 6 episode docuseries on Netflix that follows the Navarro College cheerleading program as they prepare for the 2019 National Cheerleading Championship. If you’re like me, you probably don’t know much about the Navarro College Cheer program. I’ll sum it up for you in a paragraph.
Navarro College is a small junior college based in Corsicana, TX. They also happen to have a really good cheerleading program. How good? Well, they’ve won 13 junior college national championships, and 5 “Grand National” titles. “Grand National” titles mean they scored the highest of all the teams that competed, which includes Division 1 programs. They’re basically the UCONN women’s basketball of college cheerleading. That good.
The show itself focuses on different team members throughout the show as they attempt to make mat1Which basically means to make the starting lineup. and win the title. The first is Monica Aldama, Navarro College’s coach, who built the program from the ground up.2Starting in 2000. In case you’re trying to do the math, that means she’s won 13 national titles in 18 years. 18 because the 2020 competition hasn’t happened yet and I don’t want to spoil anything about the 2019 season. The other five main characters are athletes: Morgan Simianer, Gabi Butler, Jerry Harris, La’Darius Marshall, and Lexi Brumback. They also do interviews with other teammates, but those five are the main ones.
Before watching this show, most of what I knew about the world of cheerleading was from watching Bring it On.3A great movie, but not the best way to learn about cheerleading. Which is to say I really didn’t know anything. I was naive and unaware of everything in that world. I’m not an expert now because I watched this show, but it completely changed my perspective on the sport. In fact, that’s part of the reason why this show became one of my favorites.
What do you get when you combine the best parts of Friday Night Lights with a tiny bit of Bring it On and some Hard Knocks?4Admittedly, I’ve never actually seen Hard Knocks, but this is based on what I know about the show, which is that it’s a behind the scenes reality show that follows an NFL team before the season starts. A pretty amazing TV show.
After my wife and I finished watching the show, she asked me why I liked it so much. It was a great question that was tough to answer in the moment. I started to think about it a little more to try and figure out what it was that drew me in. Three reasons came to mind.
The show does a great job introducing you to the world of cheerleading. They make it very accessible. They handhold you through the history of the sport and industry. You learn about the different positions5I didn’t realize there were positions in cheerleading. on a cheer team. They make it feel very similar to athletes trying to make a football or basketball team. They don’t bog you down with the minutiae of technical terms that can happen in some sports. They may mention a technical move that one of the cheerleaders perform, but they don’t try to explain it. You just watch and know that what they just did was pretty incredible.
They keep everything simple and use common tropes in sports. The team has a singular goal in mind: to win the NCA National Cheerleading Competition. They have a rival school, Trinity Valley Community College, that they find themselves competing for national titles against. They have injuries that impact the potential success of the team. They have competition among teammates to earn spots on the mat. All of these things make it really easy to follow the journey and get brought into the story.
The other thing to remember about college cheerleading. This is it for them. There isn’t anything after this. All they have is competing for national titles. If they miss at the National Cheerleading Championship, that could be it for them. They have one, maybe two chances. There is no professional cheerleading league.6In fact, someone on the show called cheerleaders for pro sports teams glorified dancers. Oh shit! They do this because they love the sport, love their teammates, and love the competition.
BEHIND THE SCENES LOOK
You don’t normally get to see a lot of what happens behind the scenes at elite athletic programs. You don’t get to see how Nick Saban decides to cut someone or how Bill Belichick schemes up his defense for the upcoming week. Cheer pulls back the curtain. They show you everything. As a result, you see the truly physical nature of the sport. Again, something else I wasn’t aware of and actually surprised me. The danger and risk these athletes put themselves through is really inspiring and at times, terrifying.
Seeing some of the girls get tossed in the air, performing spins and flips, hoping they land properly so their teammates will catch them is a spectacle. And when it doesn’t happen, you hold your breath. You see how much goes into putting together their performance. It’s rare to get the opportunity to watch people try to perfect their craft. That’s why shows like Chef’s Table have also done so well. It helps you appreciate what someone is able to do when you see how much time and effort has been given in order to be successful and accomplish their goals.
All of the cheerleaders they focus on have incredibly inspiring and often heartbreaking stories. For many of them, the Navarro College Cheer team saved their lives. They are all amazing human beings who are also super talented at cheerleading. Watching them grow over the course of the series was exciting and it was easy to root for them to succeed.
Because I love Friday Night Lights so much, I found myself comparing characters from the show that were similar to the main Navarro team members. If you are a fan of that show, this will be an easy way to get interested in watching Cheer.
Monica is absolutely Coach Eric Taylor (and Tami Taylor). She is demanding, but respectful. She truly and deeply cares about her athletes and would do anything for any of them. She isn’t afraid to push them or punish them if they aren’t living up to the standard she thinks they are capable of reaching. She strives for perfection.
Morgan is a combination of Matt Saracen and Vince Howard. From her heartbreaking background, to her raw potential. She doesn’t have a traditional cheerleading background, like many of her teammates do, but her work ethic is unmatched. She is willing to do anything for Monica and the team.
La’Darius is Smash. Extremely confident and outspoken. One of the most talented team members and very athletic. He had a tough upbringing and can get in his own head. Sometimes, to the detriment of the team.
Gabi is a much better version of J.D. McCoy and has some similarities with Jason Street. One of the most recognized cheerleaders in the sport from a young age and very talented. Her parents push her a lot and she can get overwhelmed by the stress.
Lexi is Riggins. Rough around the edges, with a tough background. She also doesn’t have a traditional cheerleading history, but has raw talent. She is a bit of an outsider and a loner, but finds her place within the team.
Jerry is the only person I couldn’t find a direct comp for, but he’s my favorite of the group. He has a sad back story, but is one of the hardest working teammates. He is the most positive person I’ve ever seen and never lets anything get him down. All he cares about is helping the team however he can.
The people are what make this show so special. Cheer had to nail its performance in order to capture people’s attention and get people watching. They did it perfectly.