Cheer coach Monica Aldama: ‘The allegations were shocking and devastating to all of us’ | Television
JTwo years ago, hardly anyone outside of the competitive cheerleading world would have known Navarro College, based in the small Texas town of Corsicana, its junior cheerleading team or its head coach, Monica Aldama. But the global success of Cheer, Netflix’s Emmy-winning docuseries after Aldama and his team’s journey to the national championships in Daytona, changed everything.
Audiences were immediately captivated by the technical skill, athleticism and personal drama of competitive cheerleading. The cast members became stars, garnering huge followings on social media and appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and the Oprah Live Tour. Aldama’s signature blonde locks and no-frills “dull talk” have been satirized on SNL. Reese Witherspoon even said she inspired her to tears.
“None of us expected it to be as big as it was,” says Aldama, after the release of season two, which soared straight to the top of the Netflix charts the week last. “We thought maybe the cheering community would watch it. We went from zero to 100 very quickly.
But the attention has not always been positive. Aldama was portrayed as a complicated figure: someone children can turn to for support – which many of them have not received elsewhere due to the circumstances of their upbringing – but also someone who leads the team with an iron fist, encouraging the cheerleaders. go through the pain, sometimes to the point of collapsing. Concerns have been raised about the number of cheerleading-related injuries, including concussions and bruised ribs. Aldama was too tough, according to critics, too heartless.
“I don’t like to disappoint, I’m a pleasure. So to see the perception people had of me was shocking,” she says. “I’ve worked so hard to get everything right, and I have a big heart for these kids.” She points out that Cheer is an edited show, focusing heavily on every drop and drop. “We are very well trained. We make a lot of progressions to get to something difficult. As with any sport, you obviously have risks and injuries but, for the most part, that’s normal wear and tear.
Although her skin has become thicker, she says, the daily comments “definitely hurt.” “I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman, but I certainly don’t think anyone would criticize a football manager for being tough and having high expectations.”
The other safety concern is for actions off the mat. Cheer made headlines last year after one of its biggest stars and fan favorite, Jerry Harris, was arrested and charged with producing child pornography. Harris is denying seven counts involving five underage boys, including four counts of child sexual abuse, one count of receiving and attempting to receive child pornography, one count of travel with attempted sex with a minor and an incentive leader.
Part of this season is devoted to the stories of Harris’ alleged victims and the larger issue of child safety in cheerleading. When the news broke, we’re told, Aldama was attending Dancing With the Stars and found out just before her first on-screen dance.
“It was shocking and devastating for all of us,” she says now. “Anyone with a heart can imagine the pain we would go through, for the victims and for someone we love. It still affects us on a daily basis. The overture, regarding her conflicting feelings towards Harris, led to accusations on social media that she was refusing to disown a child predator, with mock images of her and others behind bars appearing . Others said she was missing when her team needed her most.
“When you’re already in a very low place, it’s hard when you keep getting hit. People will see a little snippet of an interview I did a long time ago, at the low point of my career, and will judge me. They assume I didn’t say anything else and that’s just not true. I have to keep in mind that people don’t know me. I know where my heart is. She can still barely talk about it without bursting into tears.
The episode, including claims by the mother of two of the alleged victims that the cheerleading industry has turned a blind eye to wrongdoing, makes it difficult to watch. But for Aldama, shedding light on what happened is key to progress. “I know this episode was hard to watch, but it was important for people to feel they can come forward. The more education we can have, the better the whole system will be. That includes classes, “not only for the coaches, but also for the children on what is appropriate”.
In conversation, Aldama has a warmth that belies the caricatures. Nowhere is this more evident than in his relationship with La’Darius Marshall, one of the main cast members, who in a twist this season is leaving the team, claiming he has not received the support he needed. Aldama, who previously said she went “beyond” for him, talks about the pain the breakup has brought her. The couple’s tearful reconciliation in the final episode is one of the show’s most emotional moments.
“I wear so many different hats, from counselor to counselor to mother,” she says. “I’m here for them to come and cry if they’re having relationship issues or if their parents are going through a divorce. It’s a huge responsibility because sometimes you’re the only person they have.
So what of Aldama’s ‘cheerleader dynasty’ – the ‘machine’ his rivals so often refer to? She led her team to 14 NCA National All-Star Championships and five major national titles. Much of it, she says, stems from her background in business. After graduating from Tyler Junior College, Aldama transferred to the University of Texas, where she earned a degree in finance and later an MBA (Master of Business Administration). She joined Navarro after a friend—then an assistant college baseball coach—told her to apply.
“I had no intention of ever being a cheerleading coach. I was just out of college and not sure what I wanted to do, so I took the job on a temporary basis. Here I am, 27 years later. The so-called Navarro machine, she explains, was something she built from scratch. “I saw it as a business plan. What is my end goal? To win a national championship. How do I get there? I get the best score. How do I do that? I analyze the score sheet.
After Cheer came out, she says many people have come to her for advice in all areas of life, from parenting to relationships to work. His new book, Full Out, which was released this month, addresses all of this. “When you’re a coach, you have so many stories and challenges every year. The book talks about some of the fundamentals that I try to instill in my own athletes to set them up for success. To be a champion in life, she says, you have to be resilient, able to communicate, lead by example and hold yourself accountable for your own actions. “You keep putting one foot in front of the other no matter what you’re going through.”
Thanks to her, Corsicana, located about 80 km south of Dallas and with a population of about 25,000 inhabitants, is now a world reference. Navarro Cheer has become the hero of his hometown. “I think we add a fun element to the community. We definitely bring some diversity and the community welcomes it with open arms.
Although often asked if she will move on to coaching other teams, Aldama is adamant that her coaching career begins and ends at Navarro, “whenever the time comes.” She’s not ready to say goodbye to the kids just yet, but when she does, she plans to explore opportunities in business and finance.
Her life, she says, has “definitely changed” since she agreed to let Netflix in on it in 2017 – but she’s still the same person, trying to do and be her best. “I still live in a small town, I do my day-to-day work. It seems very normal to me.
Cheer season two is now on Netflix. Full Out is available now.