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Women make history as first gymnastics team at HBCU

Posted at 3:30 PM, Mar 02, 2023

Being a good gymnast requires dedication, discipline and strength. The women's gymnastics team at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, emulates all those qualities, and they're making history.

Fisk University is the first historically Black college or university to have a gymnastics team.

Freshman Jordynn Cromartie is a big part of why the team came together.

"Being a part of history is extremely surreal," Cromartie said.

Cromartie said the idea to form a team started with a Thanksgiving conversation she had with her uncle, who is a trustee at Fisk.

"He's just like, 'You should come to Fisk, you should come to Fisk,'" Cromartie said. "And I was just like, 'They do not have a gymnastics team.' Like, I've spent my whole life doing this. I'm not about to just go and not do gymnastics. And he was like, 'Oh, really? Like, I'll make it happen.' Like, I would have never thought he would make it happen. So I was just like, 'OK, whatever.'"

Several months later, the team was formed. It worked out well for Cromartie, who said she always wanted to attend an HBCU.

"I grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods and I went to predominantly white schools," Cromartie said. "I've never got to experience the Black culture as much as I wanted to."

Head coach Corrinne Tarver says the team has become family.

"HBCUS are rich in history and tradition," Tarver said. "Also for Fiske, it's a smaller school, so it's very much of a family-oriented school. And that is the one word I hear more than anything else, any time I talk to an alum, the one word you'll hear is 'family.'"

Tarver says it shouldn't have taken this long for an HBCU to get a gymnastics team.

"Black gymnasts make up approximately 10% of all college gymnasts," Tarver said. "That's a really low number. And yet, when you look at Black athletes or Black gymnasts in particular, they're in the top of the leaderboards. I mean, NCAAs last year, every single winner was a person of color."

Tarver led that charge as the first Black gymnast to win an NCAA all-around national championship in 1987. Now, she says she's living out her dream as the head coach, and inspiring other HBCUs to form their own gymnastics teams, like Talladega College in Alabama.

"I think it is important to have a women's gymnastics team at an HBCU just because it shows what Black young woman can do and that we can keep up with everyone else," Cromartie said.

Beyond making giant leaps in national competitions, the team's new goal is to raise funds for their own gym. Currently, they drive miles from campus to practice.

For now, they say they're just grateful to have each other and to be a part of this historic experience.

On Tuesday, March 14, 2023, Fisk University will be the first HBCU to host a NCAA Gymnastics Competition in history.