I spent last Saturday night quietly weeping in bed at 1 a.m. — over a man.
While I don’t know this man personally, here is what I do know: His name is Jeremiah “Jerry” Harris, he has nearly 300,000 Instagram followers and I must protect him at all costs. Jerry also happens to be the lovable breakout star of “Cheer,” the new docuseries on Netflix that shines a spotlight on competitive junior college cheerleading.
Right now, I want someone real — something real — that I can root for, because these days, it feels like our options are limited.
Jerry is a Navarro College cheerleader. And while he does not launch himself into the air like a tiny rocket, contorting his body in ways that bodies are probably not meant to be contorted, he is both a literal and figurative pillar of Navarro Coach Monica Aldama’s squad. Monica, or “the Queen,” has led Navarro to 14 National Cheerleaders Association National Championships along with five “grand national” wins. In other words, Monica is the GOAT.
And right now, I want someone real — something real — that I can root for, because these days, it feels like our options are limited. The planet is on fire, our administration doesn’t care if our kids eat greasy fries for lunch or salad and two of our most promising presidential candidates are being pitted against one another. I know I can’t count on our world leaders to make the future a better place, but at least I know I can count on Monica Aldama.
The legendary coach loves to win, but hates losing even more — especially when it comes to the national championships in Daytona Beach, Florida where her team must execute a perfect performance in 2 minutes and 15 seconds. It’s what they work towards all year. So until that day, they practice. A lot. They slam their muscular bodies onto the mat and into each other, flailing their limbs, lifting each other up by the ankles and praying someone catches them if they fall. It’s impossible not to hold your breath while watching.
But Monica isn’t just about winning. She genuinely cares for these kids, many of whom come from broken families. She gives them structure, tough love and most importantly, her time. With an MBA from the University of Texas, Monica once dreamed of working on Wall Street. Instead, she lives in the small town of Corsicana, Texas and coaches the best cheerleading team in the country that no one’s ever heard of.
There’s a reason why viewers have binge-watched the addicting six-part series. And unlike other beloved “feel good” shows like “The Great British Baking Show,” “The Good Place” or even “Friends,” “Cheer” feels different. For a brief, spectacular moment in time, it was actually fun to wake up on a weekend morning, scroll through Twitter and see the collective fangirling over the show.
Like the cheerleaders of Navarro, I too, worship at the altar of Monica and want her approval. I want to get ready for my day listening to a podcast that solely consists of the Navarro Bulldogs screaming the “Serenity Prayer” together on loop. I want to take Jerry’s infectious laugh, bottle it up and spray it on myself like a perfume.
An episode my mind keeps returning to is when the team performs their routine “full out” (this means they do it in its entirety without stopping) for Navarro cheerleading alumni. With 16 days left until Daytona, the pressure is mounting. In the beginning of the performance, Navarro is hitting every movement with nearly flawless precision, their audience yelling and cheering them on. And then a top girl/flyer, Ashlee, falls. The music cuts and the routine stops. Later, in a regroup that occurs after Monica makes the decision to ultimately remove Ashlee from the pyramid because of an injury, an alumni cheerleader confronts the team. The tension in the room is palpable.
“Do y’all have a strong bond?” she asks. Her question is met with awkward silence. “I’m just gonna be straight: If y’all don’t have that bond, y’all not gonna win. There’s just no way. Y’all gotta do what you need to do to fix it before you get on that mat.”
How is it possible that a group of college cheerleaders can work together and trust each other while literally risking their necks, but the Democratic Party can’t put ego aside to do what’s best for its country?
Her message is clear: If you don’t have each other’s backs, you have nothing. How ironic, I thought, listening to her words while watching Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren supporters sniping at each other on Twitter. How is it possible that a group of college cheerleaders can work together and trust each other while literally risking their necks, but the Democratic Party can’t put ego aside to do what’s best for its country?
One of Monica’s strengths as a championship-winning leader is that she keeps her team in check. You can be the most talented athlete, but if your attitude sucks or your effort is lacking, she’s not afraid to cut you. She makes the tough calls not because she likes to, but because she has to if she wants to win. In a time where #NeverWarren attacks are trending on Twitter and every interaction between presidential candidates is being dissected, I wonder what it would cost to hire Monica to come in and flip a table over. As journalist Laura Bassett points out, “The only way to get a progressive candidate in the White House is to refocus on the common cause of getting the truly problematic men out of power.”
Monica recognizes when the stakes are too high to lose. So she thinks carefully and strategically plots her next move with the prowess of a World Junior Chess Champion to ultimately win the game.
We exist in an infinite timeline of dread, disappointment and divisiveness. “Cheer” is a much-needed and apolitical distraction. It represents a glimmering bright spot where we’re reminded that most things are terrible and yet, not everything is. That some people have clawed their way out from the worst circumstances and are still trying their best every day knowing they still might not make the cut.
We also love “Cheer” because it highlights a leader who believes in her team, who can galvanize, motivate and make decisions not because they’re popular, but because they’re for the common good. That may seem overly simple, but it’s true.