In Sherwood, Ark., where cheerleaders are like royalty, Alisha Dunlap is the queen bee.
TLC’s new reality-TV show, “Cheer Perfection,” depicts the competitive world of cheerleading, and shows that the cheerleaders’ mothers are just as competitive as their daughters and are unapologetic about living vicariously through them.
The show takes viewers behind the scenes of a sport that is not for the faint of heart. And Dunlap, the co-owner and coach of Cheer Time Revolution in Sherwood, is tough.
“If you fall again, I’m going to replace you,” she tells daughter Cambry, a cheerleader.
Asked whether she could be viewed as being too hard on the cheerleaders, Dunlap said, “These kids know me so well. It doesn’t even bother them. … I think they like to get me excited. They know I care.”
Cambry, 5, and Cassidy, 10, are two of Dunlap’s three daughters. They and dozens of other girls are trying out for the coveted silver youth squad.
Asked whether she ever gets mad at her mother for yelling at her, Cassidy said, “Yes, yes.”
She added that she channeled that anger into cheerleading.
Some of the mothers on the show explained their own passion for the sport.
“I wasn’t a cheerleader as a child and I don’t see anything wrong with living through your child,” Bonnie Crow said.
Ann Robinson agrees.
“I wasn’t given all the things that Torin was given as a child,” she said of her daughter. “If she wants to do cheerleading, I want to make sure that she has the very best.”
But isn’t it about how you play the game, not just about winning or losing?
Not to Robinson.
“Torin played softball this year. And everybody got a trophy. Well, that’s not fun to me. I want to know that my kid is number one,” she said.
The mothers’ competitiveness can bubble up into catfights, and the series has scenes of the women arguing with each other.
Dunlap said that cheerleading seemed so intense because “the kids can do so much, so much more than even they know they can do. So with a little bit of a push, give them a little bit of drive, they’ll be great.”
When they’re not great, there isn’t much sympathy. In one scene, Crow pushes her daughter Elena to perform a move during a tryout. The girl falls, and lands on her head.
“What was the problem? You’d be lucky to get on any team,” Crow tells her.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Elena says.
“Well, I want to talk about it,” her mother replies.
“I was scared,” Elena says.
Explaining why she took such a tone with Elena, Crows said, “I expect a lot from my daughter. We spend a lot of money at cheer. And when she did that, I was very upset with her. … I expect my daughter to do good. And that was not going to cut it.”
As for whether her daughter could have been hurt, Crow said, “I knew she wasn’t. These floors have plenty of padding. She was fine.”
Not all of them are as fortunate. Cheerleader Brooke Ashworth, 13, was diagnosed with a fractured vertebrae. Despite months of pain, as soon as the doctor says she can try some hand springs, she plans to head straight from the doctor’s appointment to Cheer Time.
“I was kind of scared of what was going to happen, but I was kind of excited,” she said. “When you’re in cheerleading, you have to suck it up and get over any pain.
“I knew if I kept saying that I couldn’t do it, or I didn’t want to do it, I would get in a lot of trouble for it.”