By Bridget Sjoberg | Editor-in-Chief
Cheerleading is a sport widely known but rarely taken seriously.
Even if most people now realize that cheer involves more than just waving around pom poms and yelling chants, it still suffers from a long history rooted in untrue assumptions, and causes most people to picture pageant queens instead of legitimate athletes.
This is why “Cheer” is the documentary that the sport has always needed; Premiering in 2020 on Netflix, “Cheer” is a six-part docuseries highlighting the cheer team at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas.
Although Navarro is a community college rarely known outside of the Dallas area, it’s home to the one of the nation’s top collegiate cheer programs. The series revolves around members of the team who come from a variety of backgrounds and all seek to win the collegiate national title in Daytona Beach, Fla.
It’s established early on that the students competing on Navarro’s team are athletes who work tirelessly in their chosen sport. They’re at their gym nearly all the time and perform routines complete with stunting and tumbling elements that require a high level of skill and training. “Cheer” also proves that cheerleading is just as dangerous as sports like football or basketball — team members are constantly wearing braces and it seems as if at least one member gets tested for a concussion each episode.
“Cheer” offers audiences a unique look into the world of competitive and collegiate cheerleading, as several members on the Navarro team compete simultaneously for Cheer Athletics, a privately owned gym that takes part in competitions. “Cheer” addresses cheerleading’s stereotypes head on as it discusses the history of the sport and how it has progressed throughout the years. While cheerleaders still wear glittery uniforms and giant bows when they compete or perform, they appear like any other athlete when they practice and view their competition attire as part of their image as entertainers.
What makes “Cheer” even more interesting than just its highlight of the sport’s athleticism, however, is its genuine look into the lives of the Navarro team members. Similar to how “Friday Night Lights” uses football as a backdrop to address character relationships and family dynamics, “Cheer” finds its sweet spot in its showcasing of the smaller moments that define each member, and in its look into the family life of each athlete outside of practice.
As interesting as the cheerleading aspect may be, the show really revolves around head coach Monica Aldama, and how she acts as a role model and mother figure for team members who have struggled to feel a sense of belonging in the past.
Whether it be living without parents and struggling to find food each day or being bullied by family members after deciding to do cheerleading as a boy, each team member has a unique story to tell. Aldama is one of the most intriguing characters in the show — despite her outward tough and competitive demeanor, she is a constant mentor to her athletes, and chooses Navarro team members not only by talent, but also by long-term potential.
“Cheer” also contains drama and tension that feel genuine. The primary conflicts of the show involve who will “make mat,” or be chosen to compete in Florida, and whether the team will have what it takes to win the national championship. When watching “Cheer,” the previously unknown Daytona Beach championship suddenly becomes one of the most important events of all time, and the audience wonders what will become of the athletes who have dedicated their life to a sport that has such a limited time span to partake in.
“Cheer” is raw, genuine, and a docuseries that highlights cheerleading without trivializing it. No matter what one’s knowledgeable of cheerleading is outside of the show, “Cheer” causes its audience to learn something new and respect cheerleading as not only an entertaining performance-based activity, but also an incredibly athletic sport.