How a small junior college in Texas became one of the best US cheerleading schools

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Cheerleading isn't just about cheering on the football team anymore.Courtesy of Netflix
/ Source: TODAY

“Cheer,” a documentary series about the cheerleading team at a small community college in Texas, has become one of the most talked about shows of 2020.

The six episode series follows Monica Aldama, the head coach, who has won 14 national championships since 2000, and her team. Over the course of four months of filming, the team struggled with their own personal issues, school and of course, their incredibly difficult routine for their championship competition.

The show has been so popular that even celebrities have been tweeting about it. Reese Witherspoon said she "cried big baby tears" at the end and Chrissy Teigen said she binged all six episodes in one day before "stalking" the athletes on Instagram.

"As the cheer kids say, I went full out," Teigen quipped.

In the weeks since the show premiered, Aldama said she’s heard from people around the world — from celebrities to former cheerleaders to just regular folks — who told her the show really spoke to them.

"Cheer" has captured the hearts of people around the world. Aldama said she's gotten messages from just about everywhere, with fans telling her how impactful the show was to them.Courtesy of Netflix

“I think it shows these kids' lives and it shows you that anybody from any background can be a part of the sport,” she explained in an interview with TODAY. “And it shows you how these kids have overcome so many things and anything life throws at them.”

And she’s right — the show tracks several members of her squad, many of whom had difficult upbringings. Jerry Harris, a breakout star beloved for his positive spirit and energy, lost his mother at a young age. Morgan Simianer by her own account had a difficult, neglected childhood only to rise above it to become one of the Navarro flyers. La’Darius Marshall came from a background of poverty and abuse.

Gabi Butler (left) was already a "cheer-lebrity" before appearing in the Netflix docuseries, while her coach Monica Aldama (right) has been a force in the cheerleading world for decades.

“I really hope that people can just relate to our stories because I feel like a lot of them were so unique and different and it’s a lot of things that people can relate to,” Gabi Butler, a cheer celebrity in her own right and one of the main characters featured on the show. “It’s OK to not have a perfect life and struggle and come from different scenarios and everybody has their own story … At the end of the day you just have to make the best of it and just find something that makes you happy.”

Butler’s family was featured at length in the show, with several scenes that showed her parents seemingly pushing her to participate in things she didn’t feel on board with.

The Navarro team practices just about everyday in the months leading up to their national championships in Daytona, Florida.Courtesy of Netflix

“My parents, we are not like a normal family; we’re definitely far from perfect,” she explained. “It was a good eye opener for all of us because it shows, yeah, we do have to let her be more independent because she’s getting older … she has to start learning things on her own.”

Butler said she’s grateful to the show because it helped her family become “closer and stronger” as a result.

Butler is cheering for an all-star team, Top Gun, based in Miami nowadays, but she’ll be rooting for her former teammates back in Corsicana, Texas.

“Everyone is just so excited,” Butler said.

Flyers are typically the smallest cheerleaders who are thrown in the air.Courtesy of Netflix

“We’re just trying to keep our heads above water,” Aldama added, noting the show has put them into a sort of press whirlwind that brought them all the way to California to appear on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

They believe the sport of cheerleading will continue to grow and the show “Cheer” will only add to the excitement around it.

“I think this series is so unique because it does show how hard we work. Anybody from anywhere can do it, you just have to put the time in,” Butler said. “Cheer is the most accepting sport that there is.”