In the fall of 2018, Morgan Simianer's main goal was to simply be the best cheerleader she can be — which included locking in one of the 20 available spots on the mat when Navarro College, a community school in Corsicana, Texas, would compete at the National Cheerleading Association’s annual National Championships in Daytona Beach, Florida. As a second-year cheerleader there were a lot of stakes riding on making mat — after all, Navarro had already won more than a dozen championships since coach Monica Aldama began leading them in 1995. And Simianer had already won in at least one sense, given that she made it onto the 40-person team to begin with. Now, she’s ready to work — and the whole world can watch.
This season, a film crew came to her campus to document her team’s journey to Daytona. At first, she didn’t make it to mat, but when another cheerleader was injured, she was taken off the sidelines to help her team take a championship title. That journey ultimately turned into one of the storylines on the new Netflix documentary series Cheer, which tackles not only Simianer’s unusual track to the mat but the emotional journey that brought her from a small town in Wyoming to Texas. As a child, she and her brother were largely abandoned by their parents, and it wasn’t until her grandparents discovered she was living in a trailer that she had a place she could really call home. It was there that she found Aldama, her coach who became so much more than a coach.
“She's my best friend and my mentor and my mom figure,” Simianer told MTV News of Aldama. “I still love her to death.”
MTV News catches up with Simianer, who recently completed her associates degree in sociology, and is now taking a dual enrollment program through Navarro College and Texas A&M Commerce so that she can continue to compete with her squad. Here, she talks about the process of juggling both her cheer duties and her school work in front of the camera, her relationship with Aldama, and why she’s hoping the 2020 championships will be different in at least one major way.
MTV News: How did you feel when you found out that the 2019 cheer season was going to be recorded?
Morgan: At first, it was kind of like, "Oh, is it really going to happen?" Once I realized it was legitimate I was freaking out. I was like, "Oh my gosh, this is so cool. This is going to be amazing. I'm going to meet all these amazing people. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity," and I was just really excited about it.
MTV News: Did you watch the whole season once it came out? What did you think about how the show portrayed you?
Morgan: Oh yeah, I binge watched it when it came out at 2:00 in the morning. The best word to describe it was “incredible,” because it just had a whole year documented for the world to see. So even looking back on it now and watching my little clips of it, it just brings back memories. It puts you in that exact time and place when they were filming. It's a whole brick wall hitting you with emotions and feelings.
The way that they put everything together, I couldn't even think of anything any better than that. They just really helped me share my story and make it very inspiring for other people. Obviously, I have a different perception of how I view myself versus how other people view me. But I think it did an accurate way of describing me.
MTV News: Have any of your relationships shifted since the docuseries has come out?
Morgan: Not really. I've had people from high school and stuff reach out to me and just say "Congratulations," and that they're proud of me. A lot of people that I don't know have been messaging me very positive and inspirational things and just thanking me for sharing my story. I've gained a few friendships with people and I've had the opportunity to meet so many more people from this, but nothing's really shifted [for the team]. We're still one big family.
MTV News: Your relationship with Monica in particular is something that I think a lot of people can relate to. Has that relationship stayed the same?
Morgan: Our relationship is still very close because I'm still here at Navarro. We've had a little bit of time to talk about the show, but it has blown up more than we ever would have imagined. We've been trying to catch up, and do interviews and find time to eat and sleep.
MTV News: What has it been like to go from a small town girl to now being nationally recognized for your talent as a cheerleader?
Morgan: It's still so surreal that my brain literally cannot even process that we have a Netflix show. But for me, it's not really about the followers. Social media is social media — one day you could lose all your followers. I just really wanted to share my story and just seeing the impact that that's made on people has just made a world of difference.
MTV News: Have you talked to anyone from your hometown about the series yet? Or have they reached out to you?
Morgan: I mean, everyone there knows about the show and all of that, but nobody knew my whole story, because I never really shared that with anyone. So it's kind of very shocking for everyone. But the amount of support that everyone showed me has been out the roof.
It's a little bit scary, especially because I really do care about how people view me. I just trusted that the Netflix crew was going to capture an accurate representation of who I am.
MTV News: You went through quite a big transformation during the docuseries. What did it feel like when you knew that you were going to be on the mat at Daytona?
Morgan: It was obviously a really great feeling knowing that all the hard work that I put in was going to pay off, and that I was trusted by my coaches enough to be put in that spot. I was very excited about it. But then I knew in my head that I had to be way better than I was at that very moment, and I had to work 10 times harder just to be able to keep my spot and to be able to not let anybody down.
I would think about where I want my life to be at, and if I look into the future 20 years, do I want to think of myself as someone who gave up and didn't try as hard? So I just really use that as motivation to be the best version of myself and to give everything 100 percent because you never know when it's going to be the last time competing.
MTV News: Is there any moment that the show captured without your watching and you wish you could have gone back and done differently?
Morgan: Not really. Except for crying, but it’s part of it. It just shows actual emotion, so I wouldn't change anything.
MTV News: There's been a lot of talking online about that emergency room visit you had, where you decided to stick it out and go against doctor's orders and keep cheering. If you had to do that again, would you have done the same thing?
Morgan: Definitely. I didn't want to let anyone down and I know how my body was and the condition that it was in, and I knew that I could keep pushing. I wouldn't have changed anything. I still would have pushed through.
MTV News: How are your ribs now?
Morgan: They're good, great and healed. Doing great, just fine.
MTV News: How do you think that the show changes misconceptions about cheerleading?
Morgan: It helps a lot with the stereotypes of people saying that we aren't actual athletes. So I just think that [Netflix] really did help portray who we are as people, that we do care about our grades and we can make 4.0, and we are very determined athletes who have a great skill set. We work really, really hard just like all other athletes.
MTV News: Is there anything that was big that you wish made it into the documentary but that just didn't make the cut?
Morgan: There's probably a lot of things that I wish that they could have put in, but they only had six hours to work with. We had a lot of funny practices. But there's also progression stuff that we did to help prevent injuries and that's the part that they couldn't really incorporate in it because they only had so much time.
MTV News: How do you find the time to practice, study, and take care of your body and social life?
Morgan: We are officially starting our Daytona season for 2020, and you’ve just got to push and make it work. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I never want to regret anything. I do have to risk my sleep, just to make sure that I get all my schoolwork done, and that I get to practices and time to eat and time to socialize with my friends. And a little bit of time to check up on social media. I have to have a very organized schedule, because everything's been chaotic.
MTV News: What would you tell high school Morgan if you could talk to her?
Morgan: I would probably say to never give up because there are good things in store for you. Just keep being true to yourself and just know that you're loved.
This interview has been edited for length.