Six Black female head coaches will make history at MLK Invitational — Other gym news
The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, Jan. 13, 2024
How was your meet-watching last weekend? I mostly stuck to the Super 16 sessions (how could you not, with that commentary team of Jess Graba, D-D Breaux, and Jordan Chiles? Seriously the best unintended comedy of my year so far).
There is a lot going on this week as well, but one standout meet is the MLK Invitational at Vanderbilt University on Monday – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States. All six gymnastics teams with Black female head coaches will square off, including both HBCU teams from Fisk and Talladega State for the first time. This is a huge, historic deal and putting the meet at Vanderbilt’s 14,000+-seat arena is going to open the event up to new audiences.
Besides Fisk, coached by Corrinne Tarver, and Talladega State, coached by Aja Sims-Fletcher, the meet will feature Rutgers, coached by Umme Salim-Beasley; the College of William & Mary, coached by Kelsey Hinton; Brown, coached by Brittany Harris; and Iowa State, coached by Ashley Miles Grieg. Sims-Fletcher and Miles Grieg are in their first seasons as head coaches, Tarver in her second, Harris in her third, Hinton in her fifth, and Salim-Beasley, the veteran in her ninth. Just a decade ago, there were no Black women leading college gym teams, and now there are six.
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I attended a quad meet at Rutgers last year at which Fisk was one of the teams competing, and it was electric – a record crowd and the announcement over the intercom that it was the first time two Black female head coaches were facing off. People are showing up for HBCU gymnastics, and it’s changing the sport for the better. It will result in more teams, more opportunities for gymnasts and coaches alike, and more chances for audiences to get involved.
You can watch history made at 4 p.m. Eastern/1 p.m. Pacific on ESPN+.
Other gym news
The elites had national team camp this week.
Simone Biles did a video about her big life-changing moments for Vanity Fair.
A video of the Italian team launched buzz about the FIG potentially raising the minimum age for senior elite competition from 16 to 18.
Hungarian gymnastics legend Agnes Koleti turned 103.
Who’s more flexible, Georgia Godwin or Novak Djokovic? Find out in this video:
Jessica Gadirova tested her knee post-surgery with a casual arabesque to scale, as you do:
Meanwhile, her twin sister Jennifer had surgery this week on her ankle.
New senior elite Reese Esponda posted an exciting training video:
And Suni Lee posted one too, of a 1.5 pirouette on bars!
Former Big 10 floor champ JerQuavia Henderson of Iowa announced that she was leaving gymnastics and school “to take care of myself.” Wishing her the best.
Georgia has lost two athletes for the season: Freshman Kelsey Lee and fifth-year Haley de Jong.
Also out for the season: LSU senior Alyona Shchennikova.
Utah’s Alani Sabado, a senior, received a scholarship for this semester.
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Five at The IX: Corrine Tarver, Aja Sims-Fletcher, Ashley Miles Grieg, Brittany Harris, Kelsey Hinton, and Umme Salim-Beasley
I had the opportunity to interview the six Black female head coaches in college gymnastics this week and am including a quote from each about this week’s MLK Invitational, hosted by Fisk University at Vanderbilt University on Monday. I wrote about the meet’s significance above, and it was a delight to speak to these women as they head into their competitions this weekend. These statements have been lightly edited for clarity.
Corrinne Tarver (Fisk): I’m excited for young black girls to see Black gymnasts from the two HBCUs. But I’m also excited for them to see Black coaches [and] to be able to say, maybe one day I can be a college coach. I had one of my athletes, [who] when I first recruited her, she was like, ‘Oh yeah, I want to go to med school. I want to be a doctor.’ And now she’s like, ‘You know what, I want to be a college coach.’
Aja Sims-Fletcher (Talladega State): We are especially proud of our floor choreography. We’re really excited, um, to show that off. We have specifically not put full floor routines on Instagram for that reason. We want to show everybody what we’ve been working on, on the big stage. I do feel like there is something special to say about HBCU floor routine. I think they’re going to be showstoppers.
Ashley Miles Grieg (Iowa State): It’s been very, very exciting to know that you have this just core group of Black women [coaches]. You can just literally be you. As an African-American woman, as a Black woman, um, I feel like I do have a little bit different of an experience, right?
In the day-to-day. And it can be very refreshing and also just freeing to have a group where you can just have those conversations. Like you’re just you, they get it. You don’t have to explain, they understand.
Brittany Harris (Brown): On many teams [and] in club gymnastics, I was often the only person of color in the sport. I feel like little Brittany, it warms her heart to see [HBCU] teams full of women of color and like they’re doing gymnastics.
Kelsey Hinton (William & Mary): We want to engage with the audience. I mean, we’re talking about [a] 14,000-seat arena. We want to be able to engage with that little boy that’s way, way, way up in the stands who was, you know, kind of dragged by his parents to come to his sister’s gymnastics. You know, we want to just be able to engage everyone with everyone.
Umme Salim-Beasley (Rutgers): This is kind of a pioneer moment. Those black gymnasts out there…they’re seeing representation within the coaching world, and that they can aspire to be head coaches of a collegiate program, whereas, years ago you just didn’t see any black female head coaches throughout gymnastics or collegiate gymnastics.
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