Scene from Netflix show Cheer

Netflix’s ‘Cheer’ Leaves Everyone Speaking in Mat Talk

The debate on whether cheerleading is a sport or not is over. The dedication of the athletes in this docuseries speaks for itself.
February 9, 2020
9 mins read

Netflix’s new six-part docuseries “Cheer” completely destroys the stereotypes of what it means to be a cheerleader and obliterates the debate on whether it counts as sport.

Cheerleading is defined as “a sport involving the performance of organized cheering, chanting, and dancing in support of a sports team at games.” However, in the case of “Cheer,” the competitions are for the team and themselves.

The show follows the competitive cheerleading team at Navarro College located in the small town of Corsicana, Texas, and their road to their 14th national championship competing in Daytona Beach, Florida. With pain from their childhoods and all the bruised ribs, broken bones, rolled ankles, concussions and more, “Cheer” showed the audience that not all cheerleaders lack common sense.

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The head coach of the team is Corsicana’s very own Monica Aldama. She went to one of the best business school in the country, University of Texas, and thought she’d be working somewhere on Wall Street, not coaching cheer. Once she started, she couldn’t stop and hasn’t stopped for 25 years. Aldama started a family of her own and decided to stay in Corsicana. She used her degree and applied it to the team.

On one hand, it was difficult watching the team put themselves through pain for a sport with no professional league. They put their overall health on the back burner all for two minutes and 15 seconds. One of the cheerleaders, TT, injured his back during competition with another team. The incident wouldn’t have happened if he listened to Aldama, who told him not to go.

At practice, the head cheer coach told him that he had to go all-out at practice if he wanted to go all-out at the actual competition. Throughout practice, TT was in excruciating pain while catching the flyers. He fell to the ground in tears on multiple occasions, but Aldama didn’t flinch at his pain. She made the team continue to practice hard until TT couldn’t. This is only one occasion showing how determined Aldama was to win in Daytona.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, it was incredible seeing it all come together. “Cheer” shows a vivid distinction between distress and amazement, beauty and pain, power and being exposed. In the beginning, it seemed as if they didn’t stand a chance due to either injury or someone’s attitude. Navarro turned over a new leaf toward the end of the season, and things started looking up.

Throughout the six episodes, the lives of Jerry Harris, La’Darius Marshall, Morgan Simianer, Lexi Brumback and cheerlebrity Gabi Butler are profiled while breaking the stereotype that all cheerleaders come from money and happy homes. Their stories were heart breaking, and only made me want them to win even more; after all they’ve been through, they deserved it.

For example, Lexi Brumback had a troubled childhood. After her parents divorced, she went into a downward spiral. She began to skip school, get into fights, and even ran away for a while before dropping out of high school after sophomore year. Cheering was her outlet. She never had to pay the fees because she was so good at tumbling. The teams she joined just wanted her and, because of her talent, a lot of people thought she was cocky.

When she joined the Navarro Cheer team, she became the outcast. In regards to the team’s success, they find it important to know the history of the ones who’ve cheered before them. Brumback didn’t know much history because it was confusing. Brumback said, “If they were more helpful, maybe I would want to learn more.”

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The problem with the way her story was portrayed came at the end of the docuseries. They showed Brumback at a rave with her friends and it seemed like, after winning in Daytona, she fell off and went back to her old habits. This wasn’t the case at all. In an interview she did with “Entertainment Tonight,” she explained that the rave scene in the final episode occurred months before Daytona. She further explained that she continued going to school, just not to Navarro. Her performance on “Ellen” with her teammates indicated she was back at Navarro and cheering for Aldama.

Morgan Simianer’s story was shocking. Her mother left her and her brother, and her dad remarried and had three more children. Her father bought a trailer for her and her brother to live in while everyone else was in the house. This led to her feeling like she wasn’t important and didn’t matter. She became very self-conscious, and she lacked self-confidence due to coming from a broken home where her only family member was her brother.

It wasn’t until her grandparents gained custody of her that she began cheering. Once she started cheering for Aldama, she felt noticed and felt like she mattered to someone. She’d do anything for her coach because Navarro Cheer has brought her from a dark place.

From the outside looking in, one would think that Gabi Butler lives an amazing life; however, while watching this show, you realize that’s not the case whatsoever. Her rise to fame started on YouTube where she would post videos about cheer, stretching and the road to flexibility. Once her parents saw how the world reacted to their daughter, they started homeschooling her and the rest of her life began to revolve around cheering.

In one episode, Butler returns from California because she was helping her old team execute their routine. Netflix didn’t show it, but Butler’s time spent in California was seen on AwesomenessTV’s “Cheerleaders.” Butler stated she attended Navarro to see what having a normal life was like. Due to her popularity in the cheer community, cheering is all she knows.

Her parents keep her busy to the point where she can barely get any sleep. Her mother even said Butler works herself like a mule when, in reality, it’s her parents who are working her to exhaustion. In an interview on “Ellen,” Butler said that, after watching the show with her parents, they decided that they should start letting her make her own decisions. The show led her to having a great boost in self-confidence and self-love.

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Jerry Harris reigns supreme when it comes to “Mat Talk.” His backstory made me cry. Harris started cheering at a young age. He and his family got evicted when he was only in the 8th grade. His mother did everything she possibly could to keep Harris in cheer. During Harris’ junior year of high school, she contracted pneumonia-like symptoms and was later diagnosed with lung cancer. Harris felt helpless because she did all she could to keep him cheering, and he couldn’t do anything to help her.

After she passed away, Harris performed at competition the following day and everyone cheered for him. The moms of the team came together and created a GoFundMe page, raising about $28,000 for him to remain in cheer and further his education. Shannon Whelan’s daughter cheered with Harris and, after his mother’s passing, she took him in as her own and even considers him her son.

Harris is the heart of the team and everyone looks to him for positivity, so even when he’s going through something, he keeps a smile on his face so everyone else will smile too.

Don’t get me wrong, all these stories are touching, but La’Darius Marshall was nearly disowned by his brothers for doing something that he loved and was passionate about. Due to his trying childhood, Marshall tends to get angry quickly, and he lets his emotions get the best of him and cloud his judgement.

He was picked on by his brothers for hanging out with girls all the time and, when he came out as gay, they didn’t want to come to terms with it. Because of that, Marshall became depressed and was on the brink of suicide. Marshall said, “If I let my emotions win, I will kill myself, and it would be like they won.” Yes, he would hide his true feelings behind this confident personality, but cheer had a significant impact on his life.

If “Cheer” was successful in anything, it was showing that cheering is sport and for some it’s a lifestyle. Cheering is an outlet for a lot of its members, especially for the cheerleaders at Navarro. Aldama consistently pushes her cheerleaders and will have an everlasting effect on them for the rest of their lives.

Kayla Johnson, Bradley University

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Kayla Johnson

Bradley University

I am currently a junior majoring in journalism with a minor in sociology. I want to be a published author and a sports photographer one day.

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