Competitive Cheerleading: When Does Strict Coaching Cross a Line?

PHOTO: Patty Ann Romero has been coaching competitive cheerleading for 30 years. She is shown here with her squad in Kenilworth, N.J.PlayABC News
WATCH 'Cheer': Inside the World of High-Pressure Competitive Cheerleading

Tough-talking competitive cheerleading coach Patty Ann Romero uses persistent yelling and no-nonsense tactics to successfully take her squads to the top of their sport -- and even a bleeding lip is no excuse to stop practice.

"I'm an extremely aggressive coach," Romero said. "When I see it's a split lip, which in this business is really nothing, I know when it's serious and I have to react in a certain way."

But when exactly does strict coaching cross the line?

While Sue Sylvester may have perfected the TV version of a brash cheerleading coach on the show "Glee," Romero is the real deal and she showcases her strict, traditional coaching on a new CMT reality show, "Cheer," which airs Fridays at 11 p.m. ET.

"At the end of the day, my kids know I love them," Romero said. "But when we step on this mat its business, I have a job to do and your parents are paying me for a service."

There are a lot of rules In Romero's gym in Kenilworth, N.J., such as no cell phones and no Facebook when the girls travel for competitions. The squad competes year-round and practices three days a week until as late as 9 o'clock at night.

"We're not allowed to have any contact with them whatsoever," said Lori Borino, a mother of one of the girls. "I have birth to the child and she can't say hi to me. She can't say hello to me -- I borned her. Even a prisoner gets a call."

These parents who pay more than $1,800 a year to have Romero coach their girls are even forbidden from watching the girls practice. Romero put up a thick curtain in front of the window to the gym's viewing area and has kept it closed. Some parents don't seem bothered by it.

"I'm not a coach and I wouldn't even know what to say to them," said Denise Thorne. "That's [Romero's] job and I'm paying all this money to have her coached right."

But others feel differently.

"I'm paying all this money and I want to occasionally see what I'm getting for this dwindling checkbook," Borino said. "Give me a little show-off night. Take a day or two out of the month [to] take the curtain down and let us admire this stellar staff you've hired."

But behind the curtain, Romero does not spare the squad from her sharp tongue and take-no-prisoners attitude, even when one of the girls falls and gets hurt, and her harsh talk sometimes brings them to tears.

"It's a lot of pressure, especially competition season," said 18-year-old Jackie Thorne. "Patty Ann has no patience. She wants what she wants when she wants it."

While Romero said she doesn't think she is hurting her girls' self-esteem by yelling at them, she said the way she used to coach years ago was worse.

"Years ago I was wreaking havoc," she said. "I didn't have a mentor, I didn't have someone to say, 'Patty, don't say that, you have to handle that differently.' So I truly learned from many mistakes. I choose my words carefully but my words are strong."

But Romero admitted that, even now, sometimes she thinks she is being a little too tough.

"There are days I go home and I say, 'I wish I handled that different,' or, 'I shouldn't have said that to her,' and I'll pull that kid in the next day ... and 90 percent of the time, they will say, 'I know and we're good,' and I'm like, 'OK, let's get to work.'"

Her cheer squad members said they would not have it any other way.

"I don't think there is 'too tough' when you are talking all-star cheerleading," said 18-year-old Lexi Borino. "I think that if you are going to have a successful organization and lead your team to the top, you have to be able to get in their face and then be able to control them and bring them back and show them that you love them."

Romero said she strives to build strong girls.

"They're kids, I get that," she said. "They are babies in the scheme of life and these parents trust their kids with me. My job is to bring out the athlete they don't even know exist and, [at] the same time, make them into this spectacular strong woman that they will go out there and society will not swallow them whole."