The world is cheering for the star Navarro College athletes featured in Netflix’s latest series — and they can’t believe it.
Navarro College’s cheerleading head coach Monica Aldama and student-athlete Jerry Harris tell PEOPLE they are “very, very surprised” by the overwhelmingly positive response to Cheer, the documentary series that follows the Corsicana, Texas, team’s journey to a 14th National Cheerleaders Association Championship last year.
“I mean, we knew that when we filmed this that the cheerleading industry people would probably watch it because we’ve won a few times,” Aldama, 47, tells PEOPLE. “They would want to see what we’re doing, but we had no idea that the whole world would watch it. And I think the most surprising thing that I’ve seen is not only are people outside the cheer community watching it, they’re watching it multiple times. It’s crazy.”
Harris echoes his coach’s sentiments, noting that the “love and support” has been “shocking.”
“You think that only a few people are going to watch this cheer documentary. But it turns out there’s a lot more people than we ever could have imagined,” explains Harris, who quickly became a fan favorite for his infectious enthusiasm and positivity.
Beyond the team’s rigorous practices and intense competition to make it “on the mat” for Navarro’s turn at Nationals in Daytona Beach, Florida, the series also highlights the personal stories of several team members.
Those stories — some harrowing — weren’t easy for both Harris and Aldama to watch, they tell PEOPLE.
“I would say the most surprising thing from watching the series was listening to [Morgan Simianer]’s story, because I’ve known her for the past couple of years, but I didn’t know that much about Morgan,” shares Jerry, referencing Morgan raising her brother alone before being taken in by her grandparents.
He notes, “So just hearing that was a bit of a shocker, but I’m glad that I know that side of her and I can love her even more for that.”
Aldama — a Corsicana native — says that while she knew her athletes’ stories, “I didn’t know some of the details in-depth like that. And so it was very emotional for me to watch that. I love these kids so much and I just cried every time. I’ve watched it multiple times and I’ve just cried every time.”
Harris’ own story is an emotional one: When he was 16 years old, the junior college student’s mother died from cancer.
“We tell these [filmmakers] what we’re saying, but actually hearing it back is just like reliving what we’ve been through,” he tells PEOPLE.
For Aldama, the anxiety of watching herself and the team’s 2019 journey was also difficult.
“That last episode [at Nationals], even though I lived it, I still watched it and my heart was racing, I felt nauseous,” she shares. “I knew the outcome, however I felt every single emotion that I had when we were actually there and every time I watched it I had those emotions.”
The series was filmed over four months, Aldama says, and condensed down into six episodes. It profiles just the latter half of the Navarro team’s practices and training, which starts in the fall semester.
“We have lots of preparation going into the whole year but we don’t actually learn our whole routine with choreography and stuff until the beginning of February,” she explains to PEOPLE. “So you don’t want to ever get to the point where you’re getting close and don’t feel prepared. We like to just be really prepared upfront.”
It’s hard not to develop a bond with the extensive practice schedule, Harris says.
“We’re always with each other,” he explains. “We never really get a day off from seeing each other. I think that ties our bond and makes us a lot closer than any other program, probably.”
And Aldama is there for the kids through it all. She says, “I just make it a point from the beginning to let them know that they can come and talk to me about anything.”
Aldama is back for another year coaching the team at Navarro, hoping to secure a 15th Nationals title. And Harris is finishing his final year at Navarro and hopes to next attend a university and get a degree in kinesiology.
“My goals are to just cherish these last few moments that I have with my team,” he says.