The end of the year brings a lot of excitement to the world of gymnastics — it’s almost competition season. Teams are releasing their schedules, doing official intrasquads and putting the final touches on routines. It’s an exciting time of year, but it’s a lot to handle, especially for a team entering its inaugural season, as is the case for three in 2023.
One of those teams is Fisk, the first gymnastics team representing a historically Black college or university. Not only is Fisk entering its first season, but head coach Corrinne Tarver is also going into her first year as a head coach.
“It’s pretty humbling and exciting [to be chosen as the first head coach of a HBCU gymnastics team],” she said. “It’s something that’s never been done, so I love the fact that we can make it into what we want it to be but that we’re also going to be a blueprint for others to follow.”
Coaches have a lot to think about when they’re preparing their team for the rush of competing every weekend. But before teams can think about competition season, they have to know who they’re competing against. Creating a schedule is a big part of preseason, and coaches want to create the best schedule that they can for their athletes.
“I want to give them the best opportunities to get the best scores, and we all know that when you compete against the big dogs, the scores are better,” Tarver said. “But I also didn’t want it to be too many of those. I wanted to have a nice mix of your high ranked ones and then ones that are more in the middle so that it wouldn’t be overwhelming every single weekend.”
Once a team’s schedule is figured out, it’s time to start the real preparation for competition season. At this point in the preseason, teams are working on easing into routines. It’s important for coaches to pace their athletes and make sure they don’t do too much before the season has even begun. “We’ve been doing routines, but they still have that safety net of either going into the pit or resi or getting a spot,” Tarver said.
In addition to the physical preparation, gymnasts have to get mentally ready for competition season. This is something that can be tricky for a first-year team. Since new programs are typically made up of a lot of freshmen, there’s a lot of inexperience when it comes to getting ready for the college season.
“Right now we’re just trying to get them to understand where they need to be as far as getting ready for competition because most of our girls have never competed before,” Tarver said. “So they don’t understand how quickly season comes in and how, once we start when we come back from the Christmas break, we basically have a week and then we’re going. Then once we go, there’s no stopping.”
Getting physically and mentally ready to compete every weekend isn’t the only thing Fisk is thinking about. The team is receiving a lot of attention from the gymnastics world since it’s the first HBCU team, and that pressure can be a lot to live up to. “It’s exciting, but it’s a lot of pressure,” Tarver said. “I’m starting to see the nerves and the jitters and the stress right now.”
Even though the team has to overcome the pressure of being the first HBCU gymnastics program, that isn’t its main focus. The gymnasts still have goals for their season like any other team. For Fisk, it’s to “compete confidently…have a good showing, represent ourselves well and represent themselves to the best of their abilities,” Tarver said.
It’s also about proving to the fans and to themselves that they are capable of competing at the college level. “I think a lot of the girls were overlooked in some ways. They weren’t really being recruited because they weren’t all-around gymnasts,” Tarver said. “So I think it’s about them being confident and them feeling like they belong—that they’re good enough.”
Beyond the 2023 season, Tarver hopes to show the college gymnastics world that small schools can be just as competitive as the bigger ones. Fisk is home only to about 1,000 students, so it can be easy for fans to overlook the team.
“Even though we’re small, even though we’re an HBCU, a lot of the stereotypes go along with that, that we can make an impact,” said Tarver. “We can, as a team, be competitive. Even though we might be a DII program once we get into NCAA, we are still able to really compete with the big dogs. So that’s my goal over the next five years is to continue to move up the rankings as a team and to continue to get stronger.”