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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It's not making sense. Maybe, it is. Everything is so blurry and vague. You can't seem to fathom what's happening. You're lost and searching- searching for the meaning behind what ifs and what could have beens. But life, we give meaning to life as if it's a beautiful paradise. Indeed it is.
But why we feel so gloomy, so empty? It seems like no light is passing through our soul. We're wounded. Hoping for healing. That's because, we're living. We celebrate life but we also fight for it. You feel all the pain, because you're living. You're not just alive, you're living. You can make it through all the storm and darkness. Wishing you well, Marj.
I was, but I am not. Desperately, I am trying to reach you – my hope. I am in this particular space in my own constructed world where doubts and frustrations recur. Emphasizing how scared I am being here, I never explored this area before. I was always in those places filled with benevolence, hope shining like the light the sun and the moon possess. And I didn’t have any plans to visit a ‘dark’ place, as how I described it then. But, as funny as how my world suddenly flipped, I am now here, completely lost with monsters persuading me to go insane.
How did I end up here? I can’t logically tell you the answer for that, but I guess, I know when. It started when I had to consider what college course do I want to pursue. Well, if you want to ask what ambition had occurred in my mind when I was young – which is usually the case in terms of life when you were like 7-year-old young - it was definitely being a doctor. I’d thought about wearing a medical coat with a stethoscope around my neck, ready to cure people from their illnesses. It was actually stuck in my mind for so long I almost thought that I was sure of it, yet, as a particular song yields, almost was never really enough and still, it is and will never be.
When I realized that such a perspective was slowly draining me, I tried my best to stand tough. I convinced myself that this was just temporary, that I could think of a way out of this. “There’s still plenty of time,” I once convinced myself. However, my environment demonstrated the contrary: I felt like I was completely out of time.
I was there when my classmates were happily talking about that ‘dream course’ they wish to take in their ‘dream university.’ I was there when my family was suggesting the thought of using my ‘suitable’ speaking voice for broadcasting and voice acting purposes. I was there when my teacher was convincing me that Education suited me the best. That ‘Stand tough!’ aura I used to own back then, suddenly transformed into ‘I give up!’ state, slowly destroying my being. And now, I am here in this space where doubts and frustrations are filling my former enthusiastic self. I need help.
I know, at this point, some of you may never consider me ‘fatal’ because, as you’re reading this, you may judge that I still have the ability to transform my thoughts into words that can be read, so that ‘automatically’ falls into the aspect of complete sanity. No, because I will never tell everything to you in the first place if I still have the urge to stand like I used to, relative to my belief that speaking up through writing is the best way to attract help.
When you look at the photo of mine above, you may say that I was okay. That I was successful. That I was never losing myself. Yes, I was. But, think about what happened days after that was taken and the message of this passage you started reading minutes before, do you think I am still the same girl smiling in the photo? I hope I will be or better yet, improve if the world will permit me. But, now I’m sure – I’m not the same.
LIFE ADVICE YOU NEED TO HEAR WHILE YOURE STILL YOUNG
This blog is dedicated to all teens out there struggling in determining what they really want in their life or if you simply want a glow up. And since were still facing a pandemic, I think this is also a season where everyone is re-thinking about their lives. So, I hope these advices might help you.
Tip #1. TAKE RISK - since most of you are still young, I advice you to take your biggest risk. Whether it may be taking the course you want, a skill you want to acquire or just simply taking the risk to throw away your emotional baggage from your childhood. While you're still young, you have very little to lose. You dont have that much commitments and responsibilities. Because the older you get, the more responsibilities and obligations came. So when they are still not piling up, take the risk! As for me, the biggest risk I took when I was still a teenager is to CUT OFF TOXIC FAMILY TIES.
I may sound rude here but, yeah. I decided to throw away my emotional baggage from my traumatic childhood and cut off some of my family ties and it is completely okay! You dont have to be bothered by whatever they will say. Because at your age, you are already investing on your growth as a person. If you really want to grow, THERE IS NO PERFECT TIME FOR YOU TO TAKE RISK BUT NOW. Because in taking risk you are actually giving yourself a reward of getting something amazing or beyond what you expect you can have. As they say, the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. Keep in mind that the bigger the risk, the bigger possibility of FAILURE. But that is completely OKAY. Because just like what I said earlier, you are still young. You dont have so much to lose so, dont be afraid to take the risk and then fail. But after failing, learn from it and the more courage you have to take risk the greater the learning, reward or happiness. Ito na nga, how to take risk nga ba? And what are the risk that would actually help me to grow? #
2: VOICE LESSON - dont get me wrong, hindi ito vocalization para sa pagkanta. What I mean is, learn to listen to that VOICE INSIDE YOU. Listen to your heart, to your intuition and to your visions because it will be your GUIDE. Because I realize that as you go along your journey of your life and if you really want to be YOURSELF and be successful in achieving your goals, the only GUIDE that you should follow is your OWN VOICE.
It is okay to take and consider other people's advices but at the end of the day,you should never forget to listen to your own voice. Because that voice is what tells you what you truly want. How would you know that if it is your 'own' voice? Your own voice always comes from your HEART. The voice where YOU and GOD'S voice are one. Because I firmly believe that God knows your heart and that is where he reside. I like journaling because whenever I journal my thought every night and every morning, I feel a dual voice inside my head. Like, it contradicts what the other voice is telling. For example: If we have dreams or goals that puts us so much weight and pressure to the point that it makes you exhausted, STOP. Because it might be a dream or goal of someone else. I believe that your own dreams and goals may be frustrating most of the time, but that frustration has fueling feeling that will always tell you that 'This is the hard way to better so keep going'. Frustration in your own dreams will not make you feel exhausted because achieving a dream itself is a fulfilling feeling.
#3. TAKE ACTION - if you really want something to happen, take action. Dont just sit there and wait things to come your way. Make action or decisions that will take you to where you want to go in your life. Just like what I said in one of my novels that I am writing in wattpad, "There is no such thing as destiny or fate. Because YOU make your OWN life choices." For example, I cannot expect to be a published author if I dont write any novels right? The bottomline here is, if you are not moving forward you are actually moving backward. And it is a sad thing. Life is full of situations where you will be put in the line whether you take courage or just stay where you are. Because GROWING needs consistency in moving forward. So if you dont have to enough courage to take action, your life will always stay the same or worse you will continuously shrink down.
#4. EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS - this means stretching your comfort zone. I watched an anime entitled "Black Clover" there is a captain there where he always tell his subordinates to surpass their limits right, here right now. Going out of our comfort zones are surely scary and uncomfortable. But you have to accept the fact that you cannot stay on the coast forever. You have to change, because the only thing that is constant in this world is change right? Go out of your comfort zones because LIMITS are just in the MIND. There are disabled people who are successful in their own careers. Because the lesson here is, if you hold back there will be no growth. Because GROWTH blooms in DISCOMFORT.
Last, #5. INVEST IN YOURSELF - especially now that you are still young, you should focus on investing on yourself more. Time is your bestfriend at this point of your life. You have so much time to discover things about yourself. I never regret buying and reading books that I never knew will help me later on in dealing life's challenges. You can use that time to read books, gain wisdom, or pick a new skill, improve your talent and learn from your experiences. Keep learning outside your home or your school. Because the real battlefield is OUTSIDE. What you learn in school will only help you in your career but your wisdom and experiences will help you in life or as a person. People who doesnt embrace growth will never succeed in their life. (This is a reflection blog from my 21st birthday last week. I hope you can feature this on your page and I hope it can help others as well. )