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Cheer’s Jada Wooten Knew the Judges Wouldn’t Disagree With TVCC

Photo: Kyle Alexander/Netflix

Spoilers for Cheer season two below.

Unlike its basket toss of a first season, season two of Netflix docuseries Cheer had a lot to balance. Covering the Navarro drama that came out of their new fame as well as the tumult of 2020 left little room to get to know the underdog rivals at nearby Trinity Valley Community College. But just like in those two minutes and 30 seconds on the mat at Daytona, TVCC steals the spotlight with nothing but pure athleticism. Jumping from the controversies at Navarro to practice as usual at TVCC, each episode felt like switching between a drama and a documentary, complete with inspirational speeches from TVCC veteran Jada Wooten. “Trust yourselves!” she cheers at her team in episode six. “Find your motivation. Find your ‘why,’ whatever that may be, and do what you gotta do on this floor.” Her speeches at practice, before full-outs, and ahead of nationals went beyond the hype of mat talk, grounding her teammates and lifting them up with the clear-eyed, full-hearted confidence of a trustworthy coach. “It was easy to talk to them,” Wooten told Vulture. “When somebody feels so passionate and expects so much from these people, including myself, the words just spit out, no problem.”

Cheer doesn’t go deep on many TVCC members, but we come to understand them through their friendships (rookie tumblers Dee Joseph, Jaden “Jaymo” Rice, and Benji Chester getting the nickname “weenies” for not smiling in routines), their passion (writing “I WON DAYTONA” on a whiteboard before leaving to compete), and Wooten’s unflinching faith in their skills. We spoke to the badass athlete about filming the eventful season and leading her team to victory at the 2021 NCA College National Championships.

There’s already a lot of pressure on the team from the nature of your rivalry with Navarro. How did participating in the show contribute to that dynamic?
They were more than supportive of us. Obviously, there’s always going to be competition between us, but I’ve had quite a few Navarro athletes reach out and give me their love and wishes, trying to support me and help me out with the whole being-on-Netflix-process. A lot of positivity came from it, rather than negative.

How aware of the cameras were you at practice? 
We knew what to expect. We were warned and they helped get us prepared with reassurance and making sure we knew to stay true to ourselves. We still got a job to do and things to accomplish. It wasn’t much of a difference when they were here because we were so driven and ready to compete. They were just background noise and gave us an audience at times as well.

It was moving to see you talk about your struggle with mental blocks, especially coming off the Olympics last year, where Simone Biles talked about her experience with the “twisties.” How did you overcome them?
I could go for hours speaking about it, but it’s also hard to fully understand myself. I had to tap into myself, realize who I was, give myself a boost of confidence. Trust that I’ve been doing this since I was 4 years old and stop letting it stress me out. When I started cheer, it was only fun and games and I wanted to compete and hang out with my teammates. But this mental block turned it from that into me having a panic attack before practice and knowing I’m going to look like a failure. The whole getting out of it came with a lot of support, and my family trying to help me understand that I’m more than this mental block. That’s where my tattoo came from: “The hardest battles are against yourself.” That has and will always stick with me, even outside of cheer.

Do you practice your speeches? How do you find that positivity every single time?
I never practice my speeches. What made me, for lack of better words, motivating is all thanks to my coaches and my team. They made me comfortable. They had me head over heels for every single one of them, the team and the whole dynamic. I couldn’t let this go down the drain.

How did it feel when you guys hit day two?
Honestly, from the start to finish of that full out, I knew. Even after day one, I was like, That doesn’t matter. Y’all just need to get the jitters out. I went to their rooms and talked to them individually, reassuring them with the scores, that we still had that chance, all we got to do is what we’ve been doing every single day, which is hitting zero. There’s no need for the motivational speeches anymore because they know how they got there. They trust the process.

That was the most fun routine I’ve ever had. Even after the fact, you’re usually dying and you want to crawl off the floor; I had so much adrenaline and such an amazing time. I walked off the stage and my heart was full. I’ve watched that scene so many times because every single person, including the ones who didn’t like to perform, were having the time of their lives. That’s all I wanted, them to trust themselves and enjoy it, rather than being so nervous.

Now that you’ve left that team and you’re cheering at Sam Houston State, what are your current cheer goals?
So, I went to another program where they haven’t won in four or five years, going against a team who just got Grand [the award for highest score across competition] last year.

You love a challenge. 
Very. Just the way it was for TVCC, when they hadn’t won in two or three years. There’s nothing that’s going to be like the Valley; we were told that from the day we came. But I plan on learning to be a rookie again and to learn from people with just as much experience as I have, if not more. I want to be an all-around athlete this year where I’m stunting, doing pyramid, doing baskets, tumbling, flying, doing it all. I know I’m already considered an all-around athlete because I can do that stuff already, but the difference is doing it in a routine. This is going to be the first year I’ve ever competed as a flyer. It’s probably going to be my hardest routine ever, but I’m really excited about it.

After being on some of the most famous cheer teams in the world, how have you watched cheer fame evolve?
When I was younger, I wasn’t ever a huge “cheerlebrity” fan. I’m still not a social-media-influencer kind of girl. Not because I have anything negative to say; I’m just not good at that stuff. When it came to cheer celebrities, I always just thought, These people are the same as me and the other athletes I’m cheering with. The major difference was the name of the team or gym.

Nowadays, they’re showing the grueling process we go through just to compete one time. It’s crazy to see, especially being a part of it. Now, instead of just cheerleaders, there’s regular people, people who aren’t in any sports [seeing it]. Cheerleading is getting a lot more eyes on it now that this show is out, and that’s all I could ever ask for, for the industry.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Cheer’s Jada Wooten Knew the Judges Wouldn’t Disagree