As someone whose ideas of cheerleading are shaped primarily by Glee and Bring it on, I had overlooked the Netflix documentary, Cheer, assuming its outdated gender stereotypes and cattiness would be reductive.
But after a few friends raved about the shows gripping storyline and the team’s impressive athleticism, I bought in. Three episodes later, I’m going to bed anxious about the Nationals in Daytona and frankly worried about Morgan’s ribs.
The documentary follows the cheerleading squad at Navarro, a Community College in Texas. The team boasts a highly successful career, winning 16 titles at the Daytona national competition, where the best collegiate teams across the US go to compete. In 2017 the team came second to their Texan rivals, which shook head coach Monica. To secure their spot at the top, the team rehearses like their lives depend on it; practicing baskets (essentially a female cheerleader being tossed in the air, performing tricks you may have only seen on a trampoline), tumbling (flipping across the floor like an Olympic gymnast) and the pyramid, the piece de résistance. This is where you can really secure the top scores by making it as complicated, and as a result, dangerous as humanly possible.
But why is it so addictive? There is nothing quite as toe curling as seeing a 20-year-old being thrown into the air and not knowing if she’ll get caught on the way down, and nothing quite as jaw dropping as seeing the reality of when they do hit the ground. As a result, the team has their fair share of injuries and fall outs, but never without the watchful eye of Monica keeping them all in check.
But the crazy stunts and their sheer strength isn’t what makes you root for the team, it's the personal experiences of a handful of the team members making you admire their dedication and commitment to the sport.
The documentary is a great tonic to our own limited athletic capacity at this moment in time, and the vivacious individuals in the team (Jerry, we love you) will no doubt put a smile on your face. Go and root for Navarro from your sofa, you won’t regret it.