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Fisk University has made history by becoming the first historically Black university gymnastics team to compete at the NCAA level.
The Bulldogs debuted at the Super 16 event in Las Vegas on Jan. 6 against North Carolina, Southern Utah and Washington, ultimately placing fourth, according to ESPN.
Next, the team will face Michigan, the 2021 NCAA champion, on Jan. 13.
Fisk gymnasts literally hit the ground running.
The university announced the formation of a women’s gymnastics program only a little over a year ago.
What got the ball rolling was a conversation last year between Fisk University gymnast Jordynn Cromartie and her uncle.
Cromartie, a freshman, told ABC News that her uncle, who is a Fisk alum, was trying to convince her to go to his alma mater, but she said she couldn’t because she was looking at schools with a gymnastics program.
“[I told my uncle] I’ve spent my own life trying to make it on a collegiate gymnastics team so I wouldn’t come to Fisk unless they had a program or something for me to do,” said Cromartie. “During that conversation he was like, ‘Watch me make it happen.'”
Only a few months later, the manifestation came to be.
Head coach Corrinne Tarver, known as the first Black gymnast to win an NCAA all-around title in 1989, spoke about building her team from the ground up.
“It’s pretty exciting, but also a longtime coming… It’s one of those things that people already thought was already there,” said Tarver. “However, it’s here now and that’s what’s important.”
Black Girl Magic lives at Fisk
Cromartie, whose main focus this year is floor and beam since she’s still recovering from a surgery in April, said it feels “surreal” to be part of the team.
“I feel like I still don’t know how much of an impact we’re making on the world,” said Cromartie. “It’s going to be really fun in the future to see what happens.”
“Well honestly I want the team to go out there every single competition, do the best that they are capable of doing,” said Tarver. “Overall I am hoping that we are a blueprint for other HBCUs to add a gymnastics program.”
Fisk University is a highly ranked historically Black university, according to U.S. News and World Report, and is the oldest institution of higher learning in Nashville, Tennessee.
Fisk also offers more than 20+ undergraduate and graduate programs in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Clinical Psychology, with a bridge Masters to Ph.D. programs through a partnership with Vanderbilt University.
The $100,000 bag was all the leg-up these women needed
According to the Miami Times, in the span of a few weeks, Frank Simmons, a member of the board of trustees at Fisk, connected Derrin Moore – the founder of Atlanta-based Brown Girls Do Gymnastics, an organization that’d been trying to drum up support for an HBCU for years – with Fisk’s trustees.
One trustee listened to Moore’s pitch and offered to make a $100,000 donation on the spot if Fisk adopted the sport.
In a flash, all the roadblocks and misconceptions Moore had encountered while spending the better part of a decade trying to persuade an HBCU to take the leap on an increasingly diverse sport evaporated.
“Already being an HBCU, we’re the underdogs,” Cromartie said. “We haven’t had much time to practice. We don’t have the resources of other schools yet … but we are eager to prove we can keep up with everyone else. That we belong.”