I used to be a cheerleader, and ‘Cheer’ is real

Words by Olivia Hart

We can, we will, we must get cheer to the Olympics.

When Netflix dropped the docu-series Cheer this week, the whole world realised it had been missing out on something great. It was Atlantis uncovered; the world of competitive cheerleading beat, thrived and bubbled below the surface of elite sport. Never being a cheerleader suddenly felt like the greatest oversight anyone could ever make.

As a once-upon-a-time-cheerleader myself, I’m here to say it’s true. Cheer is every bit as gruelling and magical as the series portrays. 

Following several star members of the Navarro cheer squad as they prep to win a presitigious national trophy for the fourteenth time in 19 years, the sentimental interviews, hardcore stunting and direct leadership from mega coach, Monica Aldama, shows cheerleading for what it is: a real sport.

Undervalued at best by the mainstream media and ridiculed at worst, cheerleading has struggled to make the mainstream beyond Bring It On sequels. But the docuseries has catapulted the sport and its central athletes onto the viral stage, feature on The Ellen Show and all. 

I hardly deserve the title of ‘cheerleader’ when compared to the Navarro cheer team. I barely drudged my way out of level one, putting my exit from the sport down to shin splints and too much fear. Yet I still came out the other side better prepared for non-cheerleading hurdles life would throw at me.

A lot of my fear about the general world dissipated in my post-cheer life. Chalk it up to standing one-footed above head height supported only by the body of another girl beneath me, but a lot of other physically dangerous occurrences seemed less likely to hurt me IRL when stunts did not.

I became more focused and attentive (an inattentive cheerleaders would hardly make mat), learnt to work harder than ever and became a lot better at most other sports.

Yes, cheer can be outlandish. The girls are required to wear a full face of makeup, and fake lashes, every inch of the uniform is bedazzled, and majority of stunts can be a one-way ticket to the hospital.

But the appeal of cheer is the ferocity of it.

As the documentary shows, the athletes aren’t there to muck around. Every cheerleader on the Navarro squad trains gruelling hours around class time and homework and often with injuries.   

Monica Aldama says in episode one that for all the athletes on her team, there is nowhere to take the sport after this. Unlike other elite sports and the athletes that compete in them, there is no higher level than college cheerleading. Despite their athleticism, fame and accolades in cheer circles, none from the Navarro squad or their peers can pursue a career in competitive cheer.

In fact, all they really can do to keep the cheer dream alive is prolong their college graduation so they can keep winning national titles.

That, however, could change soon. In 2016, the International Olympic Committee’s executive board voted to grant cheerleading a ‘provisional’ Olympic sport status. A provisional status could result in cheer’s induction into the Olympic sporting ring in time for the 2024 Paris games.

While I could easily watch endless seasons of Morgan, Lexi, Gabby, Jerry and La’Darius repeating college and winning nationals, I would much rather see them make to the rightful and deserving next stage: the Olympics.

So let’s ‘mat talk’ the sport up and up until it finally gets there. 

You can watch Cheer on Netflix now.


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