‘Cheer’ is Back. Coach Monica is Ready.
The documentary series on the Navarro College cheerleading team returns to Netflix on Jan. 12.,
The documentary series on the Navarro College cheerleading team returns to Netflix on Jan. 12.
CORSICANA, Texas — Monica Aldama grasped a mike like a pageant queen. The head coach of Navarro College Cheer, who is known for her role on the Netflix documentary series “Cheer,” was hyping up her squad with “mat talk” before bodies began soaring through the air.
“Don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what you want to push yourself to do today,” she told the team. “Actually do it.”
It was early December and from the sidelines, Ms. Aldama, 49, with fresh blond highlights and her signature square French tips, watched as tumblers twirled furiously.
The second season of “Cheer” will premiere on Jan. 12, nearly two years since the first season aired. The Emmy-winning series provided an unvarnished window into competitive cheerleading and captivated audiences with the team’s personal stories, injuries and journey to the college nationals competition.
The Navarro College team, which is one of the best programs in the country, has won 14 Junior College Division National Championships since 2000 and five Grand National Titles since 2012. After Season 1, recognition for the team and Ms. Aldama reverberated beyond the cheer world. The squad has made appearances on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “The Today Show” and was parodied on “SNL.” Ms. Aldama was called “the Bill Belichick of cheerleading.”
“Monica is the most determined coach I have ever had the privilege to film,” Greg Whiteley, the creator, director and executive producer of “Cheer,” said in an email. “Ten seconds into our first conversation with her I knew this was someone whose story needed to be told.”
The first season featured often grueling routines in which it sometimes seemedas if the Navarro squad was encouraged to push through their pain. The show also featured a series of jaw-clenching moments of physical trauma, including concussions, bruised ribs and a game-changing ankle injury in the midst of a national championship performance.
Netflix declined to comment on the injuries in Season 1. Ms. Aldama said that the show was edited to emphasize falls in order to spotlight the difficulty of the sport.
“I felt like they probably could have edited to show how hard it was without having every single fall we had,” she said.
The team regularly focuses on safety precautions, including having extra spotters when they’re learning new routines, Ms. Aldama said.
“Safety is No. 1,” she said. “We don’t really have a lot of injuries besides your normal wear and tear.” Ms. Aldama added that many of the injuries among athletes, such as ACL tears, were a result of overuse.
“It’s just like any other sport, you’re going to have wear and tear because you’ve been physical and doing, you know, some kind of physical activity for probably the majority of your life,” she said.
Research shows, however, risk of catastrophic injury in cheerleading can be very high. Between 1982 and 2009, “65 percent of all direct catastrophic injuries to girl athletes at the high school level and 70.8 percent at the college level” resulted from cheerleading, according to a 2012 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Kimberly Archie, the founder of the National Cheer Safety Foundation, a group of concerned parents calling for safe practices in the sport, said the injuries that viewers saw on the series are a major concern and her organization is working to make reforms, including teaching athletes how to fall.
“One of the things that I learned when I started tracking injuries is that we weren’t teaching kids to know what to do when something goes wrong, but we know things go wrong,” Ms. Archie said.
The series also made headlines last September when Jerry Harris, the show’s breakout star, was arrested and charged with production of child pornography. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Mr. Harris’s case is set for a status hearing on Jan. 12.
Ms. Aldama said she is devastated by the situation. “I still can barely talk about it without crying,” she said, tearing up. She said she received a letter from Mr. Harris after the news came out and spoke to him briefly when one of her athletes was on the phone with him one day in the gym. The second season will address the accusations against Mr. Harris, according to representatives for Netflix.
It will also turn the focus on to a new group of cheerleaders and follow the lives of a few cast members from Season 1. A new trailer for the series shows the team responding to reports about Mr. Harris, preparing for the college nationals competition in Daytona and facing off against their rivals, Trinity Valley Community College.
“Before I even realized how wild things would be, we were already filming,” Ms. Aldama said.
She has become a local celebrity in Corsicana, Texas, where she grew up. The town, about an hour south of Dallas, has a population of about 25,000 and flaunts world-famous fruitcake and a four-block downtown area with brick-paved streets.
Over a dinner of pepperoni pizza, which Ms. Aldama ate with a knife and fork, the coach described herself as a very private person. Although she is slowly getting used to being recognized from “Cheer,” initially it was shocking.
“I did not think that a lot of people would watch the documentary,” she said.
She began her own cheer career at Tyler Junior College. She transferred to the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned a finance degree, and she later received an M.B.A. from the University of Texas at Tyler. After years of coaching cheerleading, Ms. Aldama knew the stereotypes that had been associated with the sport all too well.
So when the opportunity presented itself to do “Cheer,” she took it. “I thought nobody really understood what we do and how passionate we are,” Ms. Aldama said. “You really do hours and hours at the gym.”
Ms. Aldama, like her practices, can be intense, but also energetic and warm.
“Everyone needs a little something different,” she said. “Some need a lot more than others because they don’t have it.”
For her, it’s just a part of the job. The coach is there to talk her cheerleaders through heartbreak or help set them up with jobs to help them afford what they need.
Her team, for their part, is driven and eager to please.
Morgan Simianer, 24, a former cheerleader for Navarro and a star on the show, said she was determined to test her limits.
“You are working so hard for it that you don’t want to miss out on anything,” Ms. Simianer said. “So, I always pushed through injuries, but I’m also very determined to be able to do it right a million times.”
Joshua Stamper, 28, who after 13 years of cheering at an elite level came to Navarro in search of college titles, characterized Ms. Aldama’s coaching style as “loving but competitive.”
“At the end of the day, she loves every athlete that she has, but we still have a goal in mind,” he said.
After the first season of the show, Ms. Aldama found herself with new opportunities including a chance to compete on “Dancing With the Stars.” Although she was initially unsure, she went to Los Angeles and was paired up with the professional dancer Val Chmerkovskiy. The “coach being coached” element of the series was intimidating to Ms. Aldama.
“It was scary,” she said, but she made it to Week 7 out of 11 weeks.
Ms. Aldama had also always thought about writing a book, and after the series premiered, she was approached by a handful of publishers. When the world went into lockdown and her schedule opened up, it seemed like the ideal time to write one. “Full Out: Lessons in Life and Leadership From America’s Favorite Coach,” which will be published on Jan. 4, is part self-help, part memoir.
Personally and professionally, Ms. Aldama said she is inspired by Taylor Swift. “I want to be all of that, just like her,” Ms. Aldama said of the pop star. “But in my world, not music.”