Navarro College “Cheer” Returns To Netflix

NEW YORK — When we last saw Navarro Community College’s cheerleading team on Netflix, it was in the final episode of the docuseries “Cheer” (“Cheerleaders in Action”). They had just won the National Association of Cheerleaders (NCA) national championships in the junior college division and celebrated in the tradition of running to the sea.

Then came fame. The main cast, including coach Monica Aldama, became celebrities in the cheerleading community overnight, even those who were already quite well known. They went to Famous shows like “Ellen,” posed for portraits, and Aldama competed in “Dancing with the Stars.”

Gabi Butler, Navarro’s sporadic student who returned\ to compete with the team and was one of the most famous cheerleaders before the series’ debut, said everyone was shocked by the show’s success.

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“Nobody really expected the show to be that important and I think that took us all by surprise, it was like ‘Oh, wow, we thought only cheerleaders would see this.'”

One of the new stars was Jerry Harris, a chubby sports-obsessed cheerleader and team member known for his “workout talks” and his way of screaming to get his teammates excited. His mother had died of cancer when he was a teenager and a group of cheerleading mothers had helped him get by in the Suburbs of Illinois, where he is from. Although he was a much-loved member of the team, Harris was not good enough to compete in the championship. But due to an injury to a teammate, he was called up for the competition and helped lead the team to victory.

The happy ending lasted until September 2020 when Harris was indicted on federal charges of child pornography. He was also accused of soliciting sex from minors at cheerleading competitions and convincing teenage boys to send him sexually explicit photographs and videos of them. Harris is in prison awaiting trial. He has pleaded not guilty to the seven charges he faces.

Almost no one knew that the cameras were still recording Navarro’s team shortly after the first season premiered. They captured the rise in their notoriety, much to the annoyance of teammates who were basically visible as supporting actors.

The second season of “Cheer,” which premieres on Netflix, shows what happened next, including the abrupt halt in its activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic weeks before the championship. The cameras returned to the following school year 2020-2021 to resume the plot.

One surprise from the second season is that the series not only follows Navarro but his main rival — the cheerleading team at Trinity Valley Community College, which is less than an hour away.

“Cheer” creator, director Greg Whiteley, said, “We were fortunate that two of the greatest college cheerleading teams in cheerleading history live 30 miles (50 kilometers) apart. It was logical, I think, to go and spend time in Trinity Valley just like the time we were spending in Navarro.”

Each university had a designated film crew and Whiteley went to both. He hopes viewers will be interested in both.

“I felt like the storytelling was going to get better… that you were not pressured to support one above the other, but on the contrary, when you got to Daytona, when a trial was going to be made, you felt divided.”

At the time trinity valley head coach was Vontae Johnson, a former Trinity Valley cheerleader. His assistant coach was Khris Franklin, who was once Johnson’s coach. (Since then both are co-coaches.) The two are like yin and yang and this is very well portrayed with their point of view on Navarro. While Johnson doesn’t try to hide his cruel criticism of Navarro, and especially coach Aldama, Franklin is more pragmatic. He likes Aldama and says that friendly comments are exchanged when they see each other at competitions.

Whiteley hopes viewers won’t try to search the internet for what happened when schools clashed in Daytona.

“It’s much better to watch episodes eight and nine without knowing what happened.”

Johnson says they approached Trinity Valley to film before the first season, but they weren’t interested because they feared it would be a distraction for the crew. After “Cheer” premiered on Netflix, they reconsidered it for the second season. “We thought it would be a good opportunity because of the way they portrayed the athletes in the first season, capturing athletics and all the things that are great about our sport.”

“Since a university across the street had this opportunity, it was made to us that it was really good for us to be able to give our kids the same opportunity,” Franklin added.

Although there is an episode in the second season in which the allegations against Harris are addressed, viewers do not see Navarro’s team react together to the news. Whiteley said it wasn’t a creative decision but covid-19 protocols back then didn’t allow them to film.

“I hate that we weren’t there to film,” Whiteley said. “We had their versions afterwards where they tell us what happened and how Monica gave them the news and how those meetings were made and how difficult it was for these guys. But we couldn’t see it because we just couldn’t shoot for obvious reasons.”

In an email, Aldama added that any pain the team has felt over Harris’ arrest “pales in comparison to what his victims went through, my heart goes on with them. I’m proud of the team for giving everything in their training every day and doing what we needed physically because emotionally it was difficult.”

Aldama says that overall, viewers will see how Navarro’s team in the gym was able to stay focused despite the difficulties they faced.

“We shot during that time that was extremely difficult for everyone, definitely one of the hardest years of my career, so there are moments in the series that are raw and rough because you’re watching it in real-time. But we learn from these difficult times in life, and in the series, you also see the strong character and strength of our athletes. As a coach and leader, I’m not always perfect, but I think it’s important to stay positive and take every challenge and opportunity to grow.”

Johnson is apprehensive at the thought of becoming famous for the series and wants the spotlight to be on the team.

“I don’t want it to be about me,” Johnson said. “I want it to be about the team. I was just going to do my job no matter what else.”

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