Review: ‘Cheer’ will make you cheer for devoted athletes

Netflix docuseries covers intense competition and complex personal lives of competitive college cheerleaders

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Photo By Courtesy of Netflix

Navarro cheer squad is the focus of the Netflix docuseries, Cheer.

Annabel Lewis, Jemma Prichard, and Brooke Rios

“Cheer,” the six-episode docuseries streaming on Netflix, will make viewers jump and cheer for the scrappy and highly talented athletes who risk serious injuries for a shot at a national title.

Photo By Courtesy of Netflix
Navarro cheer coach Monica Aldama is intense but compassionate.

The show follows the journey of Texas’ Navarro College Cheer team as they prepare for their annual collegiate cheer competition. Quickly becoming a hit after its release in January, the series became a big topic of discussion, and people binged the series in just a couple of days.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t just your expected audience obsessing over the show. One could find people of all ages, genders, and levels raving about the series, even if they previously knew nothing about the cheer world.

The show– created by Greg Whiteley, who was also behind the Netflix docuseries Last Chance U, about junior-college football players–features the team’s competitive tryout and labor-intensive practices as they prepare for the big competition. The one-shot performance that will determine if the team adds to its collection of national titles gives the show it’s tension and compelling suspense.

“Everything that we work for comes down to two minutes and 15 seconds,” coach Monica Aldama explains about the national championship performance in Daytona.

Watchers can find themselves surprised by the talent and dedication required for competitive cheerleading–which is closer to Olympic gymnastics than sideline routines of high school cheer squads–and gain a newfound appreciation for the sport.

Besides providing insight into the world of competitive cheerleading, the series also goes beneath the surface to draw attention to the life struggles that the kids on the cheer team are dealing with outside of cheer practice. Watchers grow to love the kids on the team and sympathize/relate to their life experiences and hardships.

As you watch the series, you can expect to find yourself rooting for the cheerleaders’ success and sharing the joy and sadness involved with each moment on the show. As injuries mount in ever-more-difficult routines, viewers feel pain for these dedicated athletes, but may also wonder what makes such them take such risks for a brief bit of glory.

While the series highlights the impressive skill and talent of the nationally ranked cheer squad, the most memorable aspects of the show come from the individual lives of the cheerleaders and coaches themselves. We find out what drives them and what they must overcome to make the team and win.

Fan-favorites like Jerry, Morgan, La’Darius, Gabi, Lexi, and Coach Monica showed their dedication to the sport of cheerleading and their resilience despite complicated and tragic backgrounds. One example of an inspirational cast member is Jerry Harris.

Though the Navarro cheer program is inherently competitive because 40 cheerleaders are fighting for 20 performing spots “on the mat”  in the national competition, Jerry always tried to lift his teammates up and support them. He is known for perfecting the art of “mat talk,” which is the cheer tradition of yelling words of encouragement to teammates as they perform or practice a routine. After the series reveals the tragic death of Jerry’s mother when he was 16, his constant positivity and infectious smile become even more inspirational.

Just like Jerry, each Navarro cheerleader featured on the show had unique qualities beyond cheer that make the series worth the watch. While the stunt and dance sequences seen in the Navarro team’s routines are extra impressive when watching with a background in cheer, the humanity of the individual cheerleaders appeals to all audiences and gives the show relevance past the cheer community.

The show really highlights the difficulty and physical fitness needed to cheer at a collegiate level. The Navarro cheer squad practices for at least three hours every day. The stunts they perform are dangerous and require a high level of skill. Most cheerleaders on the Navarro cheer squad also cheered for All-Star teams in the past. All-Star teams are private squads that young boys and girls can tryout to be on. These squads only compete and are not affiliated with any school. All-Star cheerleading is extremely competitive and helps prepare young athletes to join a college cheer squad more appropriately than most high school teams.

The differences between high school and college cheer are as plain as night and day. While at the fundamental level both teams share a common goal to spread school spirit and support other sports at the school, most traditional high school cheer teams do not participate in competitions, which in contrast is a big part of the collegiate cheer experience.

Through the portrayal of the collegiate cheer experience in the Netflix hit “Cheer,” viewers can entertain themselves by watching the extravagant dances and stunts featured on the show. However, it is the lessons about the value of positivity and hard work taught through the inspiring characters in the show that make the series a worthwhile watch for all types of people.

The writers are seniors and members of the Rio Americano cheer squad.

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