Netflix Docu-Series 'Cheer' Shows Cheerleaders As They Really Are: Warriors
Hands on your hips.
Smile on your lips
Spirit in your heart.
We're ready to start.
I was a cheerleader in high school, and while watching Cheer on Netflix, I realized that I, too, had met many people like the ones you'll see in the docu-series.
Often, cheerleaders are thought of as beauty queens — the pretty and popular bunch. But there’s more to being a cheerleader than just waving pompoms by the sidelines.
Directed by Greg Whitely, the show features the Navarro College cheer squad, a humble group from Corsicana, Texas. Led by the seemingly steely coach Monica Aldama, they take on the daunting task of defending their crown in Daytona Nationals, one of the most anticipated cheer events worldwide.
Behind these smiling faces and glittery outfits are a bunch of kids with problematic pasts — kids who were bullied and were once bullies, kids whose homes are nowhere to be found, kids for whom being part of the team was their only refuge, with a coach as a surrogate parent.
It’s a much-needed image correction for cheerleaders everywhere. But it’s also a profound insight into both the grueling reality they have to endure as athletes, and the things that are never seen on the mats — their day-to-day personal struggles.
Bring it on
Of course, what is a squad without its mix of characters both similar and distinct.
La’Darius Marshall, one of the team’s top-gun tumblers (that is, stunt lifter and tumbler), is someone who loves attention, owning the stage whenever he’s on it. But Cheer reveals that he’s had a tough past; his mother went to prison, and it was difficult for him to grow up as a gay kid with three older brothers. So he channels all that in his attitude. In his words, he's all about “being bad and owning it”.
Then there’s Houston-native Lexi Brumback, who's eager to reset her life. She’s a talented tumbler, a self-styled outcast who has dropped out of school and almost went to jail. She struggles to find her place in the all-star group, but slowly finds her footing with the help of Monica and his obliging teammates like Jerry Harris.
Meanwhile, stunt-lifter Jerry is just like they describe him: the heart of the team. He’s gay, hefty, and bubbly, whose contagious laugh can hide the fact that he lost his mother, the only family he had, at a young age.
Also, there’s Gabi Butler, the "cheerlebrity" I used to watch on the Internet. Cheer shows how fame and its emotional baggage took its toll on her mental health. Just like everyone else, I used to think Gabi had a perfect life.
Finally, there's Morgan Simianer, a rookie in the world of cheer who's lucky to have made it past the tryouts. She's sweet and very much eager to master the fundamentals of cheer. It’s all she has, after all. Morgan was abandoned by her parents in a trailer truck with his older brother during her early teenage years.
Only 20 out of the 40 members of the team will make it to the official lineup — or in cheer terms, the “mats.” More than facing other teams in competition, sometimes it’s the battle among themselves and the self-doubt that can be even more difficult to hurdle.
Theirs is a struggle that doesn’t end in the four corners of the gym.
Flyers have to maintain a weight. Tumblers and lifters need to shape up. Honing your skills will become an inseparable part of your life. There will always be somebody on your tail, somebody who can replace you if you fail.
The documentary shows the technical elements of a single cheer routine: the dance, jumps, stunts, tumbling passes, and the heart of the routine, the pyramid. It takes years of mastery to build chemistry between two different groups — first, your small-scale stunt group, composed of a flyer and lifters, and then the whole 20-man team, coming together for a rousing two-minute performance.
Every member is as important. Each is a different piece of a whole puzzle.
Here, the camera zooms in on the grueling reality of facing multiple injuries. The sports is, after all, one of the most dangerous contact competitions out there. This what makes the pressure on the Navarro College squad to win its 14th National Championship in 19 years doubly intense.
There’s a term in cheer called “hitting zero”, which calls for total mastery of routine, as if it's knitted into the collective's muscle memory, until there are zero mistakes and deductions. With their injuries adding up days before Daytona, the journey becomes that much tougher for the team, especially on Coach Monica.
And results will always come at a cost. What's sadder is, there will always come a day when the journey will all be over. Unlike other athletic fields, there’s no professional league available for cheerleaders to continue their sports after high school or collegiate cheer.
What's inspirational is, the Corsicana cast is determined to forge a life after cheer.
As a former high school cheerleader and now a sports journalist, I found that comfortingly relatable. Coming from a broken family, the sport, more than anything else, taught me accountability and real lessons to help me shape the future I've always wanted for myself.
Cheer also taught me self-discipline — that I had to follow a set of rules while I discover things on my own, like an effective technique to a common stunt, for instance.
Many people in the world of cheer see it as something more than a sport. It’s an outlet where they can belong. I had teammates who almost dropped out of school, teammates who never excelled anywhere else except on the mat. I’ve been with people who had nothing else but their pep squads. I even had teammates who were so committed to the sport that, even if they were academically challenged, worked hard to bring up their grades because if they didn’t, they would be kicked out of the team.
But as the Navarro squad shows, even problematic kids can be victors in the end. Giving life to the group's warrior spirit is what makes Cheer a phenomenon to me.
It reminded me that, at one point in my life, I was somebody who reached the top and was part of something. That's enough validation to push yours truly toward more discoveries. And more opportunities to reach the highs of hitting zero in other facets of my life.
This story originally appeared on Spin.ph.
* Minor edits have been made by the Candymag.com editors.
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these sheets that exactly remind me of how I gushed in between my pillow and space you filled in the longing of my burned sorrow put smile to my sober face just like how a three year old receive her lollipop
i searched you everywhere and here you are laying down beside me in my imagination the walls that our screens built a boundary and an obvious message that says i can never have you because you wear clerical shirt and obviously you loved someone else before me
oh god, do I really want this forbidden love? that only exist in my imagination? that only exist through my words? would you, meine liebling, notice me and my art one second? because I am dying to say I love you.
A Simple Learner Who's a Great Pretender
Maybe I'm just a learner, not a weirdo. A learner that knows how to listen and pretend. A simple learner who's a great pretender. Pretending to be slightly dumb enough not to be judged and criticized by those who do not appreciate my existence. We surround ourselves with people who's levels are either beyond or below our intellectual behavior, because as for reality, people may use you either for their success or your downfall. Since then, people tend to judge someone who has an intellect with things they shouldn't be. Making them a criticizer, and most of all, calling them weird.
Honestly, I'm one of this "weirdo" who actually loves to learn things, and for the record, I'm bullied and stressed out for making myself not to learn more and go with the flow to dumbness I had. Have you ever feel being assigned to some task where you know every process to make it easier and faster to finish but turns out to hesitate to voice out because some of your mates put themselves in charge. There are times where I know what to do, what to say, or how to react, but kept myself silent and pretend not to know anything that may help us. Maybe it's a good thing to just go with their ideas and learn from their perspectives, but sometimes you can't control it and says something, and once again called to be a weirdo and let you finish the work by yourself.
It's annoying that you only know one process yet they gave you the whole work and let you finish it by yourself because they insist that "MAGALING KA DIBA?". It's not your fault being an intellectual person, knowing such things that may help you to pursue your dreams, and have the basic knowledge about something. You don't need to know everything, just the basics. And as for those people who do not appreciate your existence, let them be and continue what's the best for you. In some cases, you'll be annoyed by this but most of the time you'll be thankful for it. Not for now but maybe later. Just be yourself either a weirdo, a great pretender, or a simple learner, and always remember to lower your voice and behavior because no one loves that.
Just be a great pretender not to hear any runts and be a good learner that appreciates everything. It's out of nowhere thoughts of mine, but simply I leave you this my favorite life quotation; "Don't introduce yourself, Let your success introduce you"
Dear me in six years, I wonder how life will treat you when you’re already 26 years old. Will you be financially stable? Will you be working in an advertising agency while pursuing everything about the arts? Will you be doing freelancing and living in a condo by then? I don’t know since things are very uncertain. I hope by the time you graduate from college and face the real meaning of the world, you’ll know what the real purpose of doing and living in the art will be.
I know it’s been so tough ever since you turned 20 but that’s how life works, I guess. There will be a lot of hopes and trials, breakdowns, and breakthroughs but I have high hopes of you becoming the better version of yourself. You always do, though. You were never a quitter. Making decisions is getting harder and harder as you grow but I hope it doesn’t make you stop doing what you really love to do. You will face different people with different perspectives. You will feel like a stranger once again, it’s like you were back in your freshmen year. It’s going to be tougher than you’ve expected but you can do it. I believe you can.
Most of the time, people's perception of us as a strong person makes us feel that we are not entitled to be vulnerable because they might be disappointed for seeing our weak spots. And so when we are hurting, we are often scared of extreme emotions and so bury our feelings. We deny them, trying to avoid the pain we feel.
But by doing that, we are just allowing it to come back to us and haunt us. And when it comes back, it might be stronger and it will be harder for us to get over it than when we faced them first. I realized it just now that facing those emotions will scare them until they're gone. The saying 'Let it hurt until it hurts no more' goes true. Admitting your pain to yourself doesn't make you weak. It only proves that you are strong enough to acknowledge such extreme emotions without avoiding them. We are humans and it's okay if we hurt sometimes.
Before, sliding over the rainbows
Now, our hearts are bruised
Days once full of love and laughter
Became dawns of forfeited ever after
Smiles that bring ticklish sensations
Turned to cold question and answer
Figuring who would be the next instructor
The queen’s awake
Grappling to the happiness that the sorrow and sadness take
Going back to all the promises he couldn’t make
Poetry #2: YOUR VOICE
When you talk, your voice brightens my days. You provide me comfort in all the little things that you do. Your deep and mellow voice sends a tingling feeling inside me that makes me want to keep you in my life. I love talking to you every time, every day, every night and every minute if I could. You're someone just simply amazing.