NEW YORK (AP) — The last time we saw the Navarro Community College cheer squad on Netflix was in the latest episode of the docuseries “Cheer. “They had just won the NCA National Championships in the junior college division and celebrated with a tradition where champions hit the ocean.
Then came fame. The main cast, including trainer Monica Aldama, became overnight celebrities outside of the cheering community, where some of them were already known. They appeared on talk shows, including “Ellen,” posed for photo shoots, and Aldama took part in “Dancing with the Stars.”
Gabi Butler, a sometimes Navarrese student who returns to compete with the team and was already famous in the joy world before the start of the series, says that they were all surprised by the show’s success.
“Nobody really expected the show to be this big, and I think it caught everyone off guard. It was like, ‘Oh wow. We thought only cheerleaders would watch this.
The breakout star was Jerry Harris, a chubby, cheer-obsessed and enthusiastic team member known for his “mat talk”, where he shouted encouragement to his teammates. His mother had died of cancer when he was a teenager and he was mothered by a group of moms in suburban Illinois, where he is from. A valued member of the team, Harris was not good enough to compete in the championship. In a surprise twist, Harris was called to the mat after another teammate was injured. In cinematic gold, he helped lead the team to victory.
Cut to September 2020 and Harris was charged with federal child pornography charges. He is accused of soliciting sex from minors at cheerleading competitions and convincing teenagers to send in sexually explicit photos and videos of themselves. Harris remains in jail awaiting trial. He pleaded not guilty to all seven counts.
We didn’t know much at the time, but the cameras were rolling on Navarro’s cheer squad shortly after the first season was released. They captured the burst of notoriety, much to the chagrin of teammates who were mostly only visible in the background.
The second season of ‘Cheer’ is now streaming on Netflix where we see what happened next, including an abruptly cut short season due to the COVID-19 pandemic weeks before the championship. The cameras returned for the following 2020-2021 school year to continue where they left off.
A surprise in season two, the show not only follows Navarro, but his main rival – the pep team at Trinity Valley Community College, less than an hour away.
‘Cheer’ creator, director Greg Whiteley, said: ‘We were lucky because two of the greatest college cheer teams in cheer history happen to live just 30 miles away. It was just sort of obvious, I think, to go hang out with Trinity Valley as well as the time we were already spending with Navarro.
Each school had a designated film crew, and Whiteley bounced between the two. He hopes viewers are invested in both schools.
“I felt the storytelling was going to be improved…where you weren’t bullied into rooting against one over the other or one over the other, but instead when you came at that time in Daytona, when a judgment was coming down, you felt torn.
At that time, Trinity Valley’s head coach was Vontae Johnson, a former Trinity Valley cheerleader. His assistant coach was Khris Franklin, who was once Johnson’s coach. (They have since become co-coaches.) Both are yin and yang and that’s best captured in their view of Navarro. Where Johnson does not hide his vitriol towards Navarro, and especially coach Aldama, Franklin is more pragmatic. He likes Aldama and says they exchange pleasantries when they see each other at competitions.
Whiteley hopes viewers will try not to search the internet for what happens when the school clashes at Daytona.
“It’s so much better to go into this eighth and ninth episode, not knowing what happened.”
Johnson says Trinity Valley was approached to film ahead of the first season, but they weren’t interested because they feared it would be a distraction for the team. After “Cheer” debuted on Netflix, they reconsidered for season two. “We thought it would be a good opportunity because of the way they portrayed the athletes in the first season, capturing the athleticism and all the things that are great about our sport.”
Franklin adds, “Since a college around the corner had this opportunity, I think it was really good for us to be able to give our children the same opportunity.”
Although there is an episode in season two devoted to the allegations against Harris, one thing viewers don’t see is the Navarro team as a whole reacting to the news. Whiteley says it wasn’t a creative decision, but COVID-19 protocols at the time wouldn’t let them film.
“I hate that we weren’t there to film,” Whiteley said. “We get their accounts later where they tell us what happened and how Monica broke this news and how these meetings went and how difficult it was for these children. But we couldn’t see it because we just weren’t allowed to film for obvious reasons.
In an email, Aldama added that any pain the team felt in response to Harris’ arrest “pale in comparison to what his victims went through and my heart continues to be tender to them.” I was proud of the team for giving everything in training every day and doing what we had to do physically because emotionally it was difficult.
Aldama says that overall, viewers will see how Team Navarro was able to stay focused in the gym despite all the challenges they faced.
“We filmed in an extremely difficult time for everyone – definitely one of the most difficult years of my career – so there are moments in the show that are raw and difficult because you see them in real time. But we learn through the tough times in life, and on the show you also see the strong character and resilience of our athletes. As a coach and a leader, I’m not always perfect, but I believe that it’s important to stay positive and take every challenge as an opportunity to grow.
Johnson dreads the idea of becoming famous because of the show and wants to bring attention back to 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 regardless.
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