She Can. She Will. She Must

Navarro College’s cheer coach returns for a second season on Netflix

By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

The last time I interviewed Monica Aldama was two years ago. I was still working at my former publication and wanted to do an article on the breakout success of the newly released Cheer docuseries. After the interview, we walked the campus over to her office for a quick photoshoot.

On the way, I remembered talking with her about what it was like to have fans come up to her at Northpark Center in Dallas, and the anticipation of 2020’s “Hell Week” as she and her team were getting ready for Daytona. Our conversation was candid and light. The original article came out at the end of February that year.

I saw Aldama again a week later, as the story had published and made the front page. I wanted to make sure she had a copy, so I stopped by Navarro College. She was having her cheer team run a routine in the gym as I waved hello and gave her the newspaper. I couldn’t help but notice cameras filming our interaction.

“Season Two,” I asked her, smiling. What else could it be, really?

Aldama returned a knowing smile, saying Netflix wanted to see if there was more to the Cheer story, and they were considering the option. I promised I would keep that bit of information to myself until it was time to officially announce it.

A week later, life as we knew it changed.

Fast-forward to 2022.

Aldama greeted me warmly over the phone in an interview set up by Netflix. She spent the last few days doing interviews for Cheer Season Two and promoting her motivational autobiography Full Out: Lessons in Life and Leadership from America’s Favorite Coach. The cheer coach described her current schedule as “A little all over the place,” traveling from one side of America to the other.

Aldama is candid and open about the the show’s new season, which directly continues from her team’s 2019 Daytona win at the National Cheerleaders Association-National Dance Alliance College Nationals. While the new series begins with a tonally similar start comparable to its first season, the coach views those once normal early days with a different perspective.

“You know, this was the hardest two years of my coaching career,” Aldama said. “We were so close to that finish line, and we were so prepared. We had done a ton of full outs, and at Spring Break we had that looming news that was happening in the back of our head about this pandemic, but we were still very optimistic of ‘Oh that’s not going to affect us’.”

But as Spring Break wrapped up, and the team was ready to return to Navarro College, the NCA-NDA competion was canceled and “things began to spiral out of control.”

“Watching (the show) was almost like reliving that disappointment again,” she said. “We had put so much work into it, and a lot of people thought we were going to be distracted by the media whirlwind we were on. I think because of that doubt, we were going to push harder and work harder.”

Before Spring Break, the team had completed 25 full outs, which is a practice run where a squad successfully performs all skills and sections as if performing at a competition.

“We got so close, and spent an entire year working for this one moment, and then this moment got snatched away.”

During the pandemic, the impact of Cheer made its mark on Corsicana. As businesses closed to shelter in place, downtown storefronts painted the team’s motivational “We can. We will. We must” slogan in windows as a sign of solidarity for those uncertain times.

For this second season of Cheer, Aldama is anxious to see how locals respond to the show when it comes out tomorrow.

“I hope they will still be proud of the program we have and see how hard it truly is,” Aldama said. “I just kept the faith, and I kept pushing forward.”

What kept that forward momentum was the need to be there for her young team.

“I’m the leader of the group,” Aldama said of her team. “I don’t have a choice. I’ve got these athletes looking towards me for some kind of feeling of calmness that we needed in the storm we were going through. I knew that no matter how hard of a day I was having, or how emotionally impacted I was for whatever that was going on, I still had to show up and put on my game face, and lead by example, and that’s really what I was trying to do.”

Aldama, having proven herself with multiple Daytona wins, now spends her days focusing on a more personal competitive goal.

“My purpose is no longer winning trophies,” she said. “I now push myself in that aspect because I want it for the kids. I don’t coach to win that trophy anymore for myself. I truly love being a part of the kids’ lives, and being a part of their growth and experience.”

Regarding Daytona 2021, Aldama reflects on her time from last year’s competition. Every athlete and coach has a different reason for being at Daytona. Some do it for the competitive spirit or winning the trophy. Others seek the greater unity that comes from being part of a team. I asked Aldama what she found from her own experience.

For her, it was moments of personal closure and opportunities to learn.

“Daytona was tough,” Aldama said. “We had to be resilient to get through some tough times because we do set such high standards for ourselves.”

For now, the cheer coach is working hard through Navarro College’s current semester. Daytona 2022 is a goal already set in the team’s sights.

“We’re ready to hit the road running and stay focused,” she said.

While the cheerleading rivalry between Navarro College and Trinity Valley Community College will remain an age-old competition for years to come, Aldama laughed when I asked if that story will continue on the small screen in a third season.

“Only if we win,” she said. “I don’t know. We’ll see.”

Coach Monica Aldama and her cheer team again take center stage in Cheer‘s second season. – Photo courtesy of Netflix

Special thanks to Evan Graham and Daryn Lee of Netflix for their invaluable coordination of this interview.

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