The “Cheer” of a Lifetime
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Cheerleading has been a cornerstone of the American high school experience for over 120 years. But one of the biggest stigmas surrounding cheerleading is that no matter where it takes place, cheering is viewed as a “side act” to pump up the crowd while the “more important” sports team is resting during halftime. This is where the Netflix docuseries “Cheer” comes in. The gripping show reveals that cheerleading is so much more than just pretty girls jumping and dancing for the viewing pleasure of the audience.
“Cheer” follows the reigning National Cheer Association Champions, Navarro College, on their journey to the 2019 National Championship in Daytona Beach, California. Coached by Monica Aldama, the Navarro Bulldogs reside in the small city of Corsicana, Texas, just south of Dallas. This cheer team is no joke; a hundred percent effort is always expected, and injuries are frequent, but the talent reaches as high as their pyramid. With a team of about forty people, the routines Aldama puts together blow the competition away. It is the ideal cheer team for those ready to work their hardest for the chance to take home the championship at Daytona.
There is no denying that cheering is not all glitz and glam. “Cheer” points out exactly how injuries can cut a cheerleader's season short with one bad landing. In episode three, viewers witness one of the best Navarro flyers, Mackenzie “Sherbs” Sherburn, fall hard on the mat, dislocating her elbow and taking her out for the season. Another team member, Morgan Simianer, abstains from taking medication for her badly bruised ribs just so she would be able to continue to practice with the team. Even on game day, Aldama and the team can never predict what will happen, who will fall out, or who will have to step in. Despite all these injuries, the team is determined to persevere and be the best it can be.
“Cheer” also proves that cheerleading is a hard and competitive sport despite the common stereotypes portrayed in the media. From the 50 pushups everyone on the Navarro team has to do if a flyer falls and no one catches them to the conditioning needed to rebound from injuries, one has to be incredibly tough to withstand the pressure. As someone who has been dancing for all of her life, I am deeply aware of how dance and cheer aren’t always considered sports. But this series shows how much cheerleaders practice, how hard they work, and how insanely strong they all are. They break the status quo of what is considered a sport, changing what it means to be an athlete for the first time in a while.
It is evident that “Cheer” is a show about, well, cheerleading. But it also conveys a powerful message of hope and resilience. The series focuses on five cheerleaders from the elite team: La’Darius Marshall, Morgan Simianer, Jerry Harris, Gabi Butler, and Lexi Brumback. With the exception of Butler, the cheerleaders had difficult upbringings with thousands of obstacles ahead of them. In episode one, Brumback even said that she would “probably be sitting in a jail cell right now.” But all of them have found a home within cheer, Navarro, and especially with Aldama. “[Aldama] makes sure she takes good care of you, and that's where our loyalty and our love for her comes from. She's a really, really good coach,” Marshall commented in an interview with E! Magazine.
Director Greg Whiteley expertly chose not to fiddle with the actors or the acting too much. The cheerleaders play themselves; there are no stunt people to perform the crazy tricks or actors to portray the cheerleaders. This aids the docuseries by giving it a more approachable and realistic background, relatable to many viewers.
That being said, there could have been more care into which scenes were chosen for each episode. To conclude the docuseries, there are some clips of tumbler Lexi Brumback attending and partying hard at a concert after Daytona. This scene makes it seem like Brumback has fallen back into her cycle of bad behavior that she had fought so hard to break through cheer. But according to her interview after the show, the clip was taken way before Daytona, and though Brumback has done some bad things, she is “not her mistakes.” The placement of certain clips skews our perception of the cheerleaders and can be misleading, and moving certain scenes around would have benefitted all of the parties involved and prevented misunderstandings.
“Cheer” is the perfect example of a show that keeps you on the edge of your seat and prompts you to keep watching. Every stunt makes your heart flutter; every injury makes you hold your breath; and every minute shows the world what a talented and formidable force the Navarro Bulldogs really are. But most importantly, it gives fans a new sport to follow. In a world where we are focused on who wins the Super Bowl or what team advances in March Madness, a sport that has been here for ages finally gets to have its own audience cheering it on.