Of the spring college sports in America, none is quite as anticipated as gymnastics. From the big blue floor and the four-inch beam to the vault and uneven bars, collegiate women’s gymnastics has been paving the way for female athletes to get both national and international recognition for decades.
Up until 2023, this sport was dominated by large, predominantly-white public universities such as the University of Oklahoma, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and the University of Florida.
However, Fisk University is working to change that.
Finding the Routine
Located in Nashville, Tennessee, Fisk University is a private historically black liberal arts college. It boasts 40 acres of sprawling, historic landscape, and dozens of club and NCAA sports. However, until this year, the roster for the university was lacking one key program for prospective student-athletes: Gymnastics. NCAA gymnastics – which has widely grown in popularity with the addition of high-profile Olympic athletes such as Jordan Chiles, Jade Carey, and All-Around Champion Sunisa Lee – is a key driving sport for young female athletes in America.
One of these young women, Jordynn Cromartie, had always dreamed of attending a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) for her gymnastics career. Yet, when she began her recruiting process, there simply wasn’t a university that could meet her goals.
This is where the ground-breaking Fisk University Gymnastics Team was born.
While having a conversation with her uncle, a Fisk University Alum, Cromartie mentioned that she’d spent her whole life trying to make it to an NCAA gymnastics team and that she wouldn’t be willing to apply to Fisk unless they had a program or something for her to do. In an interview with ABC News, Cromartie laughed fondly at her memory of his response.
“He was like: ‘Watch me make it happen.'”Jordynn Cromartie
At the time, Cromartie assumed that her dream of attending an HBCU for gymnastics would remain a dream. She even went on to verbally commit to Utah State University, unaware of the mechanisms moving behind the scenes that would take her fledgling desire and turn it into a full-blown force of nature.
Putting it all Together
For a team to truly come to be successful, the Fisk University Board of Directors knew that they would need a truly monumental coach. They wanted someone confident, driven, and representative of their mission to pioneer their new program, and because of this, they turned to Coach Corrinne Tarver.
As the first Black gymnast to win an All-Around NCAA title in 1989, Tarver brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the gymnastics floor. She competed for the Georgia Bulldogs from 1987-1990, and at the end of her impressive career, she was inducted into the UGA Athletic Association’s Circle of Honor. Not only this, but Tarver garnered nine All-American honors throughout her time as a gymnast, displaying dedication and drive when it came to her sport.
All of these made her the perfect addition to the Fisk University Gymnastics Team. When she first reached out to any recruit, Tarver asked:
Do you want to make history?
Many strong young gymnasts did. One of whom was none other than the highly sought-after Morgan Price.
The former five-star recruit shocked the gymnastics community when she switched her commitment from the University of Arkansas to Fisk University prior to her Freshman year, but Price states that Fisk is where she knew she could make the most impact.
“It’s amazing to be a part of a team that involves all women of color.” Price told me, “It is so… honoring to be part of the first HBCU gymnastics team in the world.”
Following Price’s lead, Jordynn Cromartie switched her commitment to Fisk as well, and other recruits such as Aliyah Reed-Hammon and Naimah Muhammed rapidly joined the roster. By the time Fisk University announced its program would be debuting at the Super 16 meet in Las Vegas, the team was well underway practicing with a dominant coalition of talented gymnasts.
The Super-16 is a major NCAA gymnastics meet showcasing some of the best gymnastics programs in the country. Many big name coaches, athletes, and fans would be present, and they were waiting to see just how much preseason training paid off. For Fisk University, this presented an opportunity to make a big statement.
“It’s humbling,” Tarver told ESPN. “Something that’s been a long time coming, and I’m so proud to bring the team to the floor that is a historically Black college and university. It’s the first time ever and we’re ready to go.”
Fisk was placed in a rotation with North Carolina, Southern Utah, and Washington, and they most certainly delivered for their highly anticipated debut.
Naimah Muhammed – the leadoff gymnast on the floor – showed no nerves when she wowed the stadium with her electrifying dance and powerful tumbling. After she landed her final pass, a stuck double-tuck, her teammates and coaches rushed out onto the floor. Many had tears in their eyes.
“It’s amazing to have all of the support and encouragement from everyone.”Morgan Price
For at that moment, there was no doubt in the minds of anyone watching that Fisk University Gymnastics had arrived. Not only had Muhammed taken the first step towards cementing her team in the history of the NCAA, but she had broken ground through her uniform as well. Historically, gymnasts compete in regulation leotards, with their bare legs on full display and their arms covered by long, sequined sleeves.
However, Muhammed petitioned the NCAA to be able to wear leggings under her uniform. Citing religious reasons, she showed the sheer power of young women who stand up for what they believe in by securing her right to wear black tights. This was another step towards greater inclusion in gymnastics as a whole.
This fantastic meet for Fisk didn’t end after their floor rotation, however. The team went on to post many high-scoring routines on beams, bars, and vaults. Yet, it was Morgan Price who stole the show.
Price was the top performer of the day, competing in all four events and earning a whopping 9.9 following her stuck Yurchenko full-on vault. This set a meet high for Fisk University and a season-high for the Freshman gymnast. When I asked Price how nailing that vault made her feel, she smiled.
“I was so excited to finally get that perfect stick I’ve been working on in the gym. It meant everything to me since I knew at that moment all my hard work during the preseason had paid off.”Morgan Price
Price went on to win this event with her high score, and wow the crowd with the rest of her routines. Especially on the floor, where she competed in marching band versions of “I Want You Back” and “Dancing Machine” by the Jackson 5, Price stole the show. She was Fisk’s top scorer of the meet with a total of 39.375 points, but her teammates Zyia Coleman, Liberty Mora, Kiara Richmon, Breyana Daniels, and Aliyah Reed-Hammon also put on some stellar performances.
Always Finishing Strong
Fisk University finished fourth at the Super 16, marking a fantastic and memorable finish for the gymnasts. Tears were shed, many hugs were shared, and the outpouring of support from Las Vegas and the gymnastics community warmed Coach Tarver’s heart. Teams such as Stanford Gymnastics and the Georgia GymDogs publicly wished Fisk University good luck, and gymnasts from across the world rallied to support the new valuable addition to the NCAA.
“It’s pretty exciting, but also a long time coming.” Coach Tarver told ESPN after the meet. “It’s one of those things that people thought was already there. However, it’s here now and that’s what’s important.”
Fisk has continued to awe fans in their ensuing meets, taking on Michigan, Rutgers, Ohio State, and other storied programs. The gymnasts continue to improve with every performance, and each stays poised and confident throughout her routine. When I asked Morgan Price how she dealt with the pressure of being a Freshman in such a clinch spot, she only shrugged.
“I really just try to zone in and only focus on myself so that I can do the best I can during the meet. I also love to compete and show off my skills so I just try to go out and show everyone my best gymnastics.”Morgan Price
Aliyah Reed-Hammon showcased this “best gymnastics” at the Tennessee College Classic, posting a 9.925 on the beam. This is the highest score of any Fisk University gymnast to date and marked another place where Fisk University Gymnastics has continued to reach new heights.
“We have a lot of eyes on us because we are the first and because we are making history, so it’s just so exciting to be a part of the first team ever.”Morgan Price
The Fisk University Bulldogs will compete at the Semo Tri-Meet at Southeast Missouri State University on Friday, where they will continue to showcase their unique and powerful skills.