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Fisk University is the first HBCU to have a women's intercollegiate gymnastics team


Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., is the first historically Black university to have an intercollegiate women's gymnastics team. The program started last spring, and the 16-member team is in the middle of its first season. Ambriehl Crutchfield from member station WPLN reports.

AMBRIEHL CRUTCHFIELD, BYLINE: When Morgan Price was just 2 years old, she was starting gymnastics in a mommy-and-me class. Since then, she's excelled on the vault, bars, beam and on the floor.

MORGAN PRICE: I would always watch it on TV, and I was just always like, ooh, I want to do that.

CRUTCHFIELD: Price says she enjoys watching Olympic gymnast Simone Biles because of her confidence.

PRICE: She just shows what, like, a true gymnast should look like.

CRUTCHFIELD: Before Biles, there was Dominique Dawes. In the '90s, Dawes became the first Black woman to join the U.S. gymnastics team and the first to win a gold medal with the team and an individual bronze medal.


CRUTCHFIELD: Back at the gym, Price is eagerly waiting for her first floor practice. This is one of her favorite parts of gymnastics because she can show off her dance skills. Price speaks loudly through her movements and attitude. At the edge of the mat, Price moves her hands like she's a mime in a box. But instead of looking at what she's doing, her face is watching the audience, like, I know you see me hitting this.

RUSSELL WARFIELD: Work. What, what, what, what, what...

CRUTCHFIELD: (Laughter).

That's Russell Warfield. He's the choreographer. His experience as a dancer, Broadway performer and gymnast all comes together in Fisk's floor routine. He met Price about two years ago at a gymnastics camp.

WARFIELD: There are certain people that stick out in my mind. It's just - they click, and they have a certain energy about them. And they're excited, and they want to learn. And that's what I always liked about Morgan.

CRUTCHFIELD: Fisk gymnastics coach, Corrinne Tarver, has coached for over 30 years and was the first Black gymnast to win an NCAA all-around championship - meaning she was a strong competitor in all four gymnastics exercises. She comes to practice just as Price is starting to learn the second part of her dance.

CORRINNE TARVER: She's everything that we could want - you know, I mean, along with so many other girls on our team.

CRUTCHFIELD: Tarver initially watches like a coach, trying to figure out what needs a tweak. But Price's expression and dance power make it hard not to be a fan.

TARVER: (Laughter) Love it. Loving it.

CRUTCHFIELD: Morgan Price didn't originally plan to attend Fisk, though. As one of the top recruits, Price had a signing day at school where she declared her intent to go to Arkansas University on scholarship. But she passed on that to make her childhood dream of being on an HBCU gymnastics team come true.

PRICE: African American people weren't allowed to go to the same schools as white people or other people. So it's just really amazing that we have kind of, like, specific schools made for us to show our culture and to just bond with people that look like you.

CRUTCHFIELD: The team members are still getting to know each other. But over the next five years, the plan is to make NCAA regionals.

For NPR News, I'm Ambriehl Crutchfield in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ambriehl Crutchfield