Netflix's 'Cheer' star Monica Aldama believes cheerleading has a place in the Olympics

·5 min read

When Netflix's documentary "Cheer" was released in January 2020, Monica Aldama, the head coach of Navarro College's cheerleading team, watched it four times in a row. Even though she knew how the story would end, she still cried as she watched herself and her athletes on their journey to a national championship.

A year and a half after the series, Aldama is still finding her footing in her new role as an international celebrity while continuing to coach the Navarro Bulldogs.

"We didn't have any idea that it would be so big," Aldama told USA TODAY Sports. "I was like, 'Hey, hang on a second. I'm a coach. I have no idea about any of this.' You get better as you go along, but it's definitely different. I'm just grateful for the opportunities, but I'm still here coaching. That's my love."

While Aldama has amassed more than 643,000 followers on Instagram, the student-athletes featured on the show have grown even more famous. Fan favorite Morgan Simianer has over 1.1 million Instagram followers, and Gabi Butler, who had a large social media following before the show, now has over 1.7 million on Instagram.

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Aldama said the show has given her cheerleaders many opportunities to monetize their talent through sponsorship deals, YouTube channels and public appearances. Because cheerleading is not governed by the NCAA, Aldama’s athletes have always been able to profit off of their name, image and likeness while in college, and she said she supports the NCAA’s recent decision to allow its athletes to do the same.

“I think they deserve that. They've worked hard probably since they were a child to hone their craft and to be as talented as they are. They should be able to go out and have opportunities to make money off of their success,” she said. “A lot of times, like these kids you saw in "Cheer," they don't come from a lot of money. Opening up these opportunities could greatly benefit them for just having basic needs met and, of course, their future.”

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Aldama said the popularity of "Cheer" also showed the potential for the sport to grow. The Tokyo Olympics this summer will include several new and less-traditional events, including skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing. Aldama believes that cheerleading could have a place on the Olympic stage in the future.

“I definitely think with all of these new sports opening up and getting the opportunity to be there, I can't see why we wouldn't have that,” Aldama said. “A lot of my followers are international. I think it is getting bigger in other countries, and if you watch some of these teams from other countries, they are really incredible.”

Monica Aldama, the coach of Navarro College's nationally-renowned cheerleading team, starred in the Netflix documentary series "Cheer," which followed the team's journey to win its 14th national championship.
Monica Aldama, the coach of Navarro College's nationally-renowned cheerleading team, starred in the Netflix documentary series "Cheer," which followed the team's journey to win its 14th national championship.

For the 2021 season, several of the athletes featured in the documentary returned to Navarro, including Butler, La'Darius Marshall and Lexi Brumback. Brumback was kicked off the cheer team at the end of the series after police found illegal substances in her car during a traffic stop, but Aldama said Brumback’s mother and grandmother reached out and asked her to give the star tumbler a second chance.

“I really saw her blossom after the show came out, and she's such a great person,” Aldama said. “She kind of got overwhelmed I think with all the people that were reaching out to her for brand deals and everything but, Lexi is doing great. She's taking advantage of all the opportunities that have come her way.”

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Another fan favorite on the series was Jerry Harris, but the former Navarro stunter was arrested by the FBI in September and admitted to agents that he solicited and received explicit messages from minors and had sex with a 15-year-old. Aldama said she is glad that Harris is now receiving the help he needs.

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“Jerry has always had a very positive attitude, and I'm hoping that he will do what's necessary to get help, get better, do his time for the things that he's done and still have an opportunity to have a life and be successful,” Aldama said. “The Jerry that I know has the kindest heart. I think he's still that same person, as far as that positive and sweet person that we all fell in love with.”

While Navarro fell short of winning a fifteenth national championship this year — it placed second behind rival Trinity Valley Community College — Aldama said she was thrilled with the team’s performance because of all of the challenges they overcame. The team missed several days of practice because of the severe winter storm that hit Texas in February, and they also were unable to train while quarantining after Aldama tested positive for COVID-19.

“We had an amazing routine; it was beautiful. We had one unfortunate minor mistake that cost us a lot of points, and at the end of the day it cost us a national championship,” Aldama said. “That’s cheerleading and you just have to accept it, move on and move forward, and we're looking forward to a great year this year.”

Contact Emily Adams at eaadams@gannett.com or on Twitter @eaadams6.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Netflix's 'Cheer' star Monica Aldama talks documentary, Olympics, NIL