Cheerleading calls to mind images of shimmering pom-poms, gravity-defying stunts and pint-sized bottle blondes with hair teased to perfection. But cheer goes deeper than an aesthetically pleasing sideline event; even more than just a competitive sport featuring a high level of athleticism, cheerleading is also a deeply spiritual activity.
If you believe in nothing else as a cheerleader, you must believe in the person responsible for catching you. Faith in your teammates is everything, and that faith takes on a deeper meaning for Monica Aldama, coach of Navarro College’s cheer team and the centerpiece of Netflix’s new docuseries, Cheer.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference,” her team screams in unison before a competition, quoting the Serenity Prayer in the final episode of the series.
Cheer follows Aldama as she leads a diverse team of competitive cheerleaders in a Texan smalltown community college, The Bulldogs, as they prepare for their ultimate competition: the national college championships in Daytona Beach, Florida. She’s spent a quarter-century at Navarro building their cheer program and has 14 national championships under her belt. Her cheerleaders refer to her either by her first name, Monica, or her second name, Queen.
Aldama’s coaching style is equal parts fierce and compassionate, and she’s seen as a second–and sometimes first–mom to past and present members of her team, who readily admit they’re still striving to “make Monica proud” long after they’ve left the team and would gladly take a bullet for her.
What’s behind the cheer coach with a never-ending desire to win and an endlessly devoted team? The short answer: a masters in business, two kids and a husband, and a deeply rooted faith.
Cheer coaching is a happy accident in Aldama’s life that turned into her life’s purpose. She planned on taking her business and finance degrees to Wall Street, but a cheer coach opening near home at Corsicana’s Navarro College flipped her plans on their head. Twenty five years later, Corsicana is still home and her team is her extended family.
“I put a lot of myself into these kids in a lot of different roles, not just a coach,” Aldama says on the show. “These are my kids, and I love them with all my heart. I don’t want them to ever feel like they’re not safe with me because they will always be safe with me.”
Creating a safe space for her students is something of utmost importance to Aldama, as many of them come from broken homes and have faced plenty of adversity off the mat. Morgan has “the look,” as Aldama puts it, but was abandoned by her parents when she was young and didn’t have the resources for private cheer training. Jerry is the team’s heart, but his relentless positivity comes after losing his mom at a young age. Lexi is an allstar tumbler with a violent past in the fallout of her parents’ divorce. La’Darius is a diva on and off the mat, but was rejected by his family for being gay.
Several of the male cheerleaders on her team are gay, and Aldama’s team is a place where they can feel fully accepted.
“Yes I’m religious, and I would sound more conservative,” she says, “but I get angry. I will debate you up one side and down the other if you talk about my boys. I will. I don’t understand how people can be so cruel about someone they don’t even know.”
Navarro College finds its home in the small town of Corsicana, Texas, in a county where President Donald Trump won 73 percent of the vote in the 2016 election. In the beginning of the series, a history teacher tells a classroom of students “Texan identity” is pro-gun and pro-life, with most residents supporting “traditional values and lifestyles” that include marriage existing soley between a man and a woman.
“I’ll be honest, I’ve had a long conversation with my pastor at the church that I’m a member of about it, and I won’t budge about my beliefs at all,” Aladama says. “Those are my kids, I’ll fight tooth and nail for them.”
Aldama’s support of her students extends far beyond the mat they perform on. Throughout the series, she’s seen enforcing strict rules concerning their grades and behavior outside of cheer. In one episode, Aldama takes one of her cheerleaders, Lexi, to file a police report after someone leaks personal photos of her online.
The lessons of Aldama don’t just apply to competitions and performances. Though many of her students’ cheerleading careers will end with Navarro, what they’ve learned there will stick with them for life.
“Monica’s so good,” commends former cheerleader Billy Smith. “She’s not Bible beating, and she’s got a great foundation and upholds the truth of what Jesus is all about; not being judgmental, has always stood up for those kids that were different, given them a place and outlet in life.”
Aldama and her team are currently preparing for this year’s competition. As for a potential second season of Cheer, Netflix has yet to make an announcement.
About The Author:
Meagan Lynn is a host at AfterBuzz TV and Elon University graduate with a degree in journalism. She loves singing, listening to inspirational podcasts and watching reality TV.
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