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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Inaugural gymnastic programs formed at Vanderbilt and Fisk University

Fisk University gymnastics became the first collegiate HBCU team in the country, while Vanderbilt launched a gymnastics club.
Duaa Faquih
Members of the Vanderbilt Gymnastics Club warming up at the Nashville Gymnastics Training Center, as photographed Jan. 23. (Hustler Staff/Duaa Faquih)

The Vanderbilt Gymnastics Club opened to students on Jan. 6 with weekly trips to the Nashville Gymnastics Training Center, open gym sessions and training sessions. 

The new club follows neighboring Fisk University’s inaugural season as the first historically black college or university with a collegiate gymnastics team and is competing at the Division II level. Staff at a local training center are hopeful the program will generate more diversity within the sport. 

Students and staff expect the two new gymnastics programs will increase the sport’s prevalence in Nashville. 

Vanderbilt’s new gymnastics club

Sophomore Grace Jones, founder and president of the Vanderbilt Gymnastics Club, said that she practiced gymnastics before coming to college and was disappointed that the sport did not have a presence on campus. 

“I was really hopeful that we would be able to get one [gymnastics club] started and be able to get more people involved in this sport,” Jones said. “I was really excited to see it come to fruition and also being able to use it as such a mental health outlet and getting more people to have access to that kind of experience.” 

Jones said that the Fisk team’s presence inspired Vanderbilt’s club members and other local gymnasts, adding that she was particularly excited that Fisk’s team practices at the same location as Vanderbilt’s club.

“We had been looking into starting the club since before then, but we were really excited to see Fisk starting their own club, and a couple of us went out to support the [Fisk Gymnastics] meet a couple of days ago when it was local,” Jones said.

Professor Allison Leich Hilbun is the Vanderbilt University Gymnastics club faculty advisor. Jones said that she asked Hilbun to help spearhead the club after learning that she was a former gymnast from another Vanderbilt student.

“He had tried to start the gymnastics club and had recommended Professor Hilbun as she had been really passionate about wanting to get it started,” Jones said in a message to The Hustler. “Once I started setting up the club, I reached out to her to see if she was still interested, and it was great to have such someone so supportive of the club.”

Hilbun said that she wanted to help design the gymnastics club to be a space for people of all different experience levels. 

“The most common thing that people say when you say gymnastics is, ‘Oh, I was never blank enough to be a gymnast.’ Whether it’s ‘I was never flexible enough,’ ‘I was never strong enough,’ or ‘I was always too tall.’ But it’s really wonderful to break those stereotypes because it’s just not true,” Hilbun said. “I wish that Vanderbilt had a D1 program, but it should have both — that and the club gymnastics.”

Sophomore Sue Chung, who attended the gymnastics club’s first open gym session, said she was excited to see the turnout. 

“It was really heartwarming and exciting to see students from all gymnastics backgrounds get to share and enjoy the sport together,” Chung said. 

Fisk University gymnastics program

The Fisk University Gymnastics team is coached by Corrinne Tarver, a former University of Georgia gymnast and the first Black woman to win the all-around title at an NCAA Gymnastics championship. 

“Women’s gymnastics exemplifies the values of Fisk University: determination, excellence and a commitment to a more just and equitable future,” Fisk University said in a Feb. 11, 2022 press release. “These values have consistently been at the forefront of women’s gymnastics.”

Fisk competed in their first NCAA gymnastics meet at the Las Vegas Super 16 Gymnastics Invitational on Jan. 6, where they placed fourth. Naimah Muhammad, the first Fisk gymnast to compete that day, also made history by being the first gymnast to wear tights under her leotard in an NCAA competition. 

Abby Abu, a coach at the NGTC, said she looks forward to watching the Fisk program grow.

“I think it’s really inspiring honestly, especially for a lot of the young girls that I coach,” Abu said. “There’s a new leotard that says ‘brown girls do gymnastics too’ that I see them wear. I know for me as a Black woman as well, I think that’s really inspiring and so it’s super exciting to see that and how gymnastics is becoming more inclusive.”

Fisk could not start a gymnastics program until after 2020 when they were lifted from accreditation probation. They were originally placed under probation following a drop in the school’s enrollment numbers, per WPLN. Only after they were cleared by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools could they consider adding a gymnastics program. The program is now working to raise the two million dollars needed to build a gym of its own. 

Fisk’s five-star freshman recruit Morgan Price de-committed from the University of Arkansas to compete for the HBCU after the team’s creation was announced. For gymnasts like Price, the opportunity to compete for an HBCU is paramount. 

“Growing up in the sport of gymnastics, I’ve never been on a team where there’s more than five girls of color on the team,” Price told the NCAA in January. “[At Fisk], I have 14 other girls who look like me who can help me with my hair, help me with my style and different small little things like that. It really helps, even just in life outside of gymnastics.” 

Abu emphasized the monumental nature of Fisk’s program and said she hopes to see more inclusivity in the world of gymnastics in the future, especially for the sake of the young girls she coaches. 

“I think just seeing representation is really important,” Abu said. 

Leich Hilbun said she is hopeful that both Fisk’s new program and Vanderbilt’s new club will popularize the sport in Nashville and increase appreciation for the local gymnasts. 

“I just really hope that it brings a lot of excitement and exuberance about gymnastics as a sport. I feel like it’s not that well-known how extraordinary the feats are and also how when you’re older, you still have the ability to learn step-by-step,” Leich Hilbun said. 

Jones echoed Abu’s sentiments, adding that the availability of more practice spaces may help to increase the sport’s accessibility in the city. 

“I’m hopeful that there is [a future for gymnastics in Nashville], especially with Fisk now getting a lot of media attention for the sport…having more locations available or having more people be able to get access to the locations that are out there would really be able to help get more access to the sport,” Jones said. 

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About the Contributors
Duaa Faquih
Duaa Faquih, Former Staff Writer
Duaa Faquih ('24) is majoring in political science and minoring in communication studies in the College of Arts and Science. Apart from forcing her friends to watch videos of her cat, Duaa loves reading fantasy novels, painting and trying new restaurants. She can be reached at [email protected].
Rhea Patney
Rhea Patney, Managing Editor
Rhea Patney (‘26) is majoring in medicine, health and society and communication of science and technology on the pre-med track in the College of Arts and Science. She is from St. Louis and previously served as Deputy Data Director. When not writing for The Hustler, Rhea loves reading, starting new TV shows and struggling to finish them, playing sports and watching sunsets with her friends. She can be reached at [email protected].
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Hugh Moore
1 year ago

Is there a chance that gymnastics could become another NCAA/SEC sport for Vanderbilt?