Forty-one years since the first NCAA women’s gymnastics championship, an HBCU has a team of its own.
Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, made history earlier this year after launching its gymnastics program — the first for a historically Black college and university — and competing at the inaugural Super 16 event in Las Vegas.
Fisk announced the formation of its first-of-a-kind program more than a year ago. Corrinne Tarver, who serves as Fisk’s athletics director and head coach of the gymnastics team, is no stranger to making history herself. She was the first Black gymnast at the University of Georgia and went on to become the first Black gymnast to win the NCAA all-around national title in 1989.
When she started her recruiting efforts, Tarver led with one simple question: “Do you want to make history?”
Tarver said many gymnasts started to reach out to Fisk before she was hired and they wanted to know more about Fisk’s program.
“When I was recruiting them, they had a lot of questions. I had no answers to give them. I basically just said, we’re going to all take a leap of faith together and we’re going to make history,” Tarver said.
It took her four months to put together the inaugural team.
Morgan Price, a 17-year-old 5-star recruit, was among the gymnasts who expressed interest in Fisk’s program. Price had initially committed to the University of Arkansas, a top-20 Division I program.
“When I saw the opportunity, I knew it was kind of like made just for me,” said Price, who said attending an HBCU and competing at a collegiate level was always her dream.
Black gymnasts account for about 10% of scholarships at the NCAA Division I level, an increase from 7% in 2012. Many of the leading faces of gymnastics over the past year have been African-American women. Konnor McClain, Shilese Jones and Olympic silver medalist Jordan Chiles claimed the top three spots in the U.S. National Gymnastics Championships in August., becoming the first three Black female gymnasts to stand on the podium.
As the Fisk Lady Gymdogs continue competing this season, the team has shown improvement week to week, winning their first home match against Greenville University last week while also becoming the first HBCU to host an NCAA gymnastics competition.
“It just shows that we are good enough as well as all the other schools,” Price said. “I feel like some people kind of counted us out, but we are just as competitive as other schools, and we trained just as hard as other schools.”
Fisk has received a tremendous amount of support from other schools, supporters and athletes, like three-time Olympian Dominique Dawes.
“The support from the other HBCUs, like the HBCU world in general, has been amazing,” said Tarver.
And now it seems others will follow Fisk to new horizons.
Last month, Talladega College in Alabama announced the creation of its program, becoming the second gymnastics team at a historically Black college or university year.