ATHENS, Ga — After Ohio State and Rutgers were introduced, out came the Fisk University gymnastics team to a roar.
All of the gymnasts were introduced one by one, much to the cheers of the Fisk supporters seated throughout Stegeman Coliseum last Monday at the University of Georgia.
Corrine Tarver, the first black gymnast at Georgia and the first black woman to win first place in the all-around at the 1989 NCAA gymnastics championship, entered the mat last to applause from the entire arena in her return as Fisk coach.
It marked the return of Tarver to her alma mater in her team’s third-ever meet. The historic event also took place on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, some two days after Talladega College announced that it will start a gymnastics program.
In this quad meet, Fisk finished with an average all-around score of 190.100 points, which was good for fourth in the field.
It was simply a story of triumph as Fisk was able to go toe-to-toe with some of the top gymnastics teams in the country in spite of being new to the sport.
For Tarver, her story parallels that of her team representing HBCUs among predominantly white institutions. Back then, she didn’t grasp the significance of being one of the few black collegiate gymnasts in the country.
“I was going to do the gymnastics that I needed to do so that I could show them what I was made of and force them to give me the respect that I deserved as an athlete,” Tarver said.
Five-star Fisk recruit steals the show
The present-day Fisk gymnasts earned respect as well with their overall team and individual performances as well. Morgan Price, a highly-touted gymnastics recruit who initially committed to Arkansas before flipping to Fisk after learning about their program, was the all-around leader for Fisk, with a score of 39.375 points.
Price definitely stole the show, especially during the floor exercise where she performed to marching band versions of “I Want You Back” and “Dancing Machine” by The Jackson 5, earning a score of 9.875 points.
There was also the balance beam where Price was able to show off more graceful movements as another Michael Jackson song, “Workin’ Day and Night,” played. She earned 9.750 points during the routine.
“It’s so fun being able to compete for an HBCU and just to be on an HBCU campus is everything to me,” Price said.
It wasn’t just Price, though. Zyia Coleman, Liberty Mora, Kiara Richmon, Aliyah Reed-Hammon and Breyana Daniels also put on some mesmerizing performances as well.
Mora was able to stretch herself to the limits, earning 9.550 points. On the balance beam, she performed amazing athletic feats such as a double flip marked by a perfect landing on the beam.
‘It feels surreal’
Coleman and Richmon — both Georgia natives — received warm welcomes from the crowd. As Richmon performed the floor exercise, someone from the crowd shouted, ‘You got this Kiara.’
Prior to the uneven bars, another spectator shouted “Zyia” as she spoke to assistant coach India Anderson to prepare her for it.
Daniels and Reed-Hammond were true standouts on the balance beam, earning 7.575 and 9.225 points, respectively.
“Today, we broke our goal,” Richmon said. “We wanted to break 190 and be here as a team and we did that today. So, I’m very proud of the team and we’re just excited.”
Daniels and Richmon both transferred to Fisk from Southern Connecticut State University. Kiana Session and Alyssa Wiggins come from the University of Bridgeport. They all wanted the chance to compete for an HBCU and for Tarver, too.
“It feels surreal. At the beginning, she (Tarver) was crying because she was so happy that we got to share this experience with her and I’m just glad that we get to share it with her as well,” Richmon said.
Even when it was all over, it was still a magical experience for these women. They all gathered together as a team and waved to Fisk supporters cheering for them in section SS. They then all took pictures together and with members of Brown Girls Do Gymnastics, who were wearing shirts with “Future HBCU Gymnast” inscribed on them.
Some members of the team then gathered with their families and others who came out to support them. Price, in particular, was thankful for everyone who came out to support them.
In the end, these young women hope to continue to make strides and inspire a whole new generation of black gymnasts in the same way their coach was inspired by her idol Dianne Durham.
“It’s exciting to have my team see where I competed,” Tarver said.