Jumps and Tears a Way of Life in "Cheerleader Nation"
- Thursday, March 09, 2006
Premiere Date: March 12, 2006
Genre: Reality TV series
Run Time: 60 min.
Creator/Distributor: Lifetime Television
Ponytails up. Megaphones down. Pom-poms back. Now, repeat after me: "I pledge allegiance to the Cheerleader Nation of America. …"
This mantra, if you will, kept running through my mind while screening the first episode of Lifetime Television's new "Cheerleader Nation" series (premiering Sunday night March 12, 2006 at 10 p.m./9 C.T. and chronicling "one team, one dream, one year" from the perspective of a Kentucky cheerleading squad).
Growing up in the South, I've been surrounded by the cheerleading way of life for many years now. But never being personally involved in the sport, I didn't realize how all-consuming and tough it can be. And not just for the participants, but for moms as well.
The series' tagline – "a new real-life, mother-daughter series of blood, sweat and cheers" – provides the first clue to the real intrigue of "Cheerleader Nation." Through their own narration and dialogue and lots of grainy footage, cheerleaders and their moms display relational dynamics and idiosyncrasies that are most interesting to watch.
In the first episode, we meet the preeminent mother-daughter team: Donna, the cheerleading coach of Dunbar High School in Lexington, KY, and her 15-year-old daughter Ryan, who is trying out for the varsity squad.
"Mom's pretty hard on me," admits the petite, yet athletic daughter. When looking over a report card in their family kitchen, Donna expresses her mild disappointment with Ryan's "all As and one B" results. "You should praise me," responds Ryan, perhaps secretly wondering if she'll ever be good enough for her mom's exceptionally high standards.
As the school's cheerleading coach, Donna has her hands full leading the three-day cheer clinic and try-outs (which occurred last summer) for the 2005-2006 varsity and junior varsity cheerleading squads. And this is no small feat as there are some big shoes to fill: Dunbar has won the national cheerleading championship two years in a row and is trying to make history with a third consecutive win. The coach, her choreographer Saleem and the cheer judges will have to choose just the right group of girls in order to realize a three-peat.
We also meet other mother-daughter teams who each have their own set of issues and struggles between them.
Ashley, a junior who's a bit stockier than her peers, confesses her insecurity around the other "beautiful and cute" and "real little" cheerleaders. "Sometimes you cry … sometimes you just have to deal with it," she says. It's hard to tell in just one episode if her insecurity really stems from her relationship with her mom, Cheryl, or not. But when Cheryl wants to attend her daughter's tryouts, it's real clear that Ashley is reluctant for her to be there when she tells her mom she's too loud and embarrassing.
The mother-daughter team of freshman Amanda and mom Terri appears to be a relationship laced with high expectations and rewards based on performance. When Amanda brings up the subject of wanting a cell phone, Terri responds that Amanda knows the drill: if she lands a particular move in a competition, only then will she get a cell phone. Amanda jokes about it good-naturedly with her mom on camera, but viewers have to wonder what she's really thinking deep inside.
Another duo, mom Merri Lynne (who admits she's "living a little bit vicariously" through her daughter) and her offspring Taylor, are dealing with Taylor's "mentalness," that is, her mental block she has when it comes to completing a back flip. Several years earlier, Taylor was a member of a club cheerleading squad where she fell while attempting the tumbling move. And she hasn't been able to do it since.
But, in order to even qualify for the Dunbar High School varsity squad, Taylor has to conquer her fear and complete the tuck. After tryouts, a tearful Taylor says: "Making the squad is really important, because I'm a cheerleader. And that's all that I do. If I didn't make it, I don't know what I'd do." Later after a somewhat successful tryout (you'll have to watch), Merri Lynne remarks, "I think we're going to call a sports psychologist."
It's a lot to take in in just one episode. But I sat there wondering, first and foremost, if we're asking children to grow up too fast. Some of the expectations placed on these 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds seem pretty steep, if unrealistic. No wonder the water works seem to be ongoing for these cheerleaders! Girls are trying to become young women during these tender teen years, but are their mothers expecting too much from them and too fast? Should a child feel like parental love is available to them only if they do as well as their parents think they should in a particular activity? These are good questions to ask.
I can appreciate the cheerleading mindset even though I don't personally subscribe to it. Clearly, it's a sport that takes up a lot of time, money and emotional and physical efforts. And while its benefits may seem fleeting on the surface, after watching "Cheerleader Nation" I'm beginning to think that there is a positive take-away: the strong work ethic and high standard of excellence required should translate well for these cheerleaders in their collegiate years, as well as future careers and family lives.
Perhaps cheerleaders are prepared for hanging tough in real-life situations and contributing positively to society thanks to blood, sweat and years of practice and performance. I truly hope so, because that can only mean a beneficial impact for an even bigger, greater nation at large. Go team!
"Cheerleader Nation" premieres Sunday night, March 12, 2006, at 10 p.m./9 C.T. on Lifetime Television.
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