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The Highs and Lows of the ‘Cheer Mom’

  • September 26, 2021

In 2014, Andrea Clevenger, who appeared on the TLC show “Cheer Perfection” with her young daughter, went to prison after pleading guilty to one count of first-degree sexual assault and engaging a child in sexually explicit conduct; the victim was a 13-year-old boy. She was released in 2017 and is now on parole.

But cultural fascination with cheer moms who commit crimes can probably be traced back to the Texas cheer mom Wanda Holloway, who in 1991 tried to hire someone to kill the mother of her 13-year-old daughter’s rival, in order to secure her daughter a spot on the high school cheerleading squad.

Ms. Holloway’s face was plastered on entertainment and news shows, and she was sentenced to 15 years in prison. (Her defense lawyers petitioned successfully for a new trial, but before her case went to trial, she pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 10 years; six months later she was released on probation.) Two campy made-for-TV movies came out of it, including, in 1993, a Holly Hunter classic, “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom.”

It should serve as the perfect plot twist that Shanna Widner, Ms. Holloway’s daughter, didn’t even want to be a cheerleader to begin with.

When Ms. Widner was 5, her mother convinced her it would be fun — the skirts, the pompoms. Then, Ms. Widner says now, it became this thing they were going to do, not something Ms. Widner herself wanted to do. Ms. Widner, who is now an English teacher near Humble, Texas, just north of Houston, tried to quit, but her mother wouldn’t allow it.

“And then I got disqualified and she got arrested and it didn’t matter anymore,” said Ms. Widner, 44, with a nervous laugh during a phone conversation. (Her ability to laugh at herself may have come from the many hours of therapy she’s had to deal with her trauma.) “Part of me was really relieved,” she said.

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