Credit: Fisk University
Although there are over 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), none have ever had a gymnastics team, until now. In February, Fisk University announced that it would be the first HBCU to sponsor women's gymnastics. The announcement came after years of advocacy from the organization Brown Girls Do Gymnastics which included a Change.org petition that garnered over 20,000 signatures.
The importance of Fisk's gymnastics team cannot be overstated. Black gymnasts have long been at the forefront at both the elite and NCAA levels. In 1992, Dominique Dawes and Betty Okino became the first Black gymnasts to win an Olympic medal, and Dawes became the first Black gymnast to win an Olympic gold medal in 1996. Then in 2012, Gabby Douglas became the first Black gymnast to win the Olympic all-around gold medal, followed by Simone Biles winning the title in 2016. Black NCAA gymnasts including Lloimincia Hall, Sophina DeJesus, and Nia Dennis went viral for their amazing floor routines, and many of the most well-known gymnasts currently competing in the NCAA are Black. However, Black gymnasts are often faced with a culture of racism on their NCAA teams, and most NCAA teams are majority-white. HBCUs can provide gymnasts the opportunity to advance their academic and athletic careers in an inclusive environment.
Fisk Gymnastics is set to begin competing in the 2023 season. The team will join one of the independent gymnastics conferences and will be eligible to compete at the USAG Collegiate Championships.
Fisk University has already drawn in coaches, recruits, and transfers who want to be a part of this program's inaugural season. In March, Corrinne Tarver was announced as the head coach for the new program. Tarver was the first Black gymnast to compete for the University of Georgia, and in 1989, she became the first Black gymnast to win the NCAA all-around title. She was previously an assistant coach at the University of Pennsylvania and worked as an athletic administrator at Syracuse and Stockton Universities. Tarver's combination of historic achievements and experiences made her the perfect choice to lead this team. She will be joined on the coaching staff by India Anderson who was previously an assistant coach at Ursinus College.
Over the past few weeks, gymnasts have begun announcing their commitments and transfers to Fisk University. Perhaps most notably, Morgan Price de-committed from Arkansas's 2024 incoming class and will join Fisk in 2023. Price is rated as a five-star recruit by College Gym News, and she finished third in the all-around at the 2021 and 2022 Level 10 National Championships. Another incoming gymnast is Hailey Clark who returned from an injury in 2021 to finish fourth all-around at the 2022 Florida State Championships. They will also be joined as incoming freshmen by Leeiah Davis who is the 2021 Georgia State Champion on vault and floor exercise, Zyia Coleman who finished nineteenth in the all-around at the 2022 Region 8 Championships, Aliyah Reed-Hammon who finished eighth on vault at the 2021 Level 10 National Championships, and Zanna Brewer who finished fifth in the all-around at the 2022 Texas State Championships.
Additionally, the inaugural Fisk University gymnastics team will include two transfers from Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU). Kiara Richmon represented Jamaica at the 2018 and 2019 World Championships and the 2019 Pan American Games. Richmon enrolled at SCSU in the fall of 2020, but she returned to level 10 after SCSU's 2021 season was canceled due to COVID. In 2022, she won the uneven bars titles at the Iowa State Championships and the Region 4 Championships. Breyana Daniels is a rising junior who competed on the vault in nine meets in 2022 and was a 2022 Gymnastics East Conference Scholar Athlete.
Fisk University is set to begin its historic inaugural season with a strong set of gymnasts, an experienced coaching staff, and the support of many gymnastics fans. As the only HBCU gymnastics team, Fisk will be able to inspire Black gymnasts and create a safe and inclusive environment for them. Hopefully, Fisk will be able to draw in the success and attention that will motivate other HBCUs to follow in their footsteps and sponsor gymnastics teams.