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Tumbling into history: First HBCU Division I acrobatics and tumbling team concludes season

Morgan State is the first such team made entirely of minority athletes, according to head coach Regina Smith.
Some of the girls from the team practicing on the mat in the gym
Posted at 12:14 PM, Jun 19, 2024

With every flip, pass and toss, the Morgan State University Acrobatics and Tumbling team are keenly aware of the moment.

"Definitely, definitely feel a big weight," said team base Mariyah Wiggins.

As the first and only Division I team from a historically Black college or university, they recognize the gravity of their history-making unit.

"As a little girl, I always dreamed of a team that would look like me," said team flyer Rayla Buckner.

"I don't know that it was as important to be the first, but it was important to be in this initiative that the NCAA has on emerging sports for women," said Dena Freeman-Patton, Morgan State's director of athletics.

There are nearly 50 NCAA acrobatics and tumbling teams. Morgan State is the first made entirely of minority athletes, according to head coach Regina Smith, who also says the sport is different from traditional gymnastics.

"You use apparatuses for artistic gymnastics. So, the students are competing on bar beams, vault floor and then acrobatics, gymnastics. We're doing the same thing, but we're doing it on top of people," she explained.

Related story: Talladega gymnast finds community at HBCU gymnastics program

Smith says the athletes bring a background in either cheerleading or gymnastics, but they also need at least a 3.0 GPA and a good vibe to join.

"I look for young ladies that possess a fun-loving attitude, like they just come with just a sense of humor and want to be great," said Smith.

The day isn't all fun and games. It starts with weight training, then it's off to the gym, where, like a puzzle, every teammate must rely on the next.

"It really is a lot of pressure because you have to trust yourself and your flyer has to trust you, and that's another body you're carrying, and not just yourself," said team base and tumbler, Kayla Bryant.

Some of the greatest names in sports history, like Walter Payton and Wilma Rudolph, cut their teeth at an HBCU, leaving a legacy that extended far beyond athletics.

While the history-making moment is important, Smith says there's something more: setting a precedent in a sport with few minorities.

"Just being able to show them a positive Black woman in this industry and knowing that they have the support of someone that looks like them, I think is key," she said.

"It's just good to make an impact and to just show people that Black girls, we are here and we are making history," said Wiggins.