Morgan State is diversifying NCAA sports!
Acrobatics and tumbling is one of just two American sports, alongside football, that was founded at the college level, The Baltimore Banner reports. For long, it wasn’t considered a “real” sport and is most associated with cheer teams. But in 2020, all of that changed when acrobatics and tumbling received an official designation as an NCAA-sanctioned sport. Now there are more than 60 collegiate level programs across the nation, ranging from Division 1 through Division III. Recently, Morgan State University made history as the first historically Black college or university (HBCU) to offer acrobatics and tumbling as a Division I scholarship varsity sport.
Morgan State already had a cheerleading squad that regularly competes nationally and cheers for teams and on campus events. In late August of 2022, Morgan State hired Regina Smith to become the first-ever acrobatics and tumbling coach for the school. Smith grew up in Albany, Georgia, and was active in competitive dance and gymnastics as a child. She went on to cheer on a Division I scholarship at Illinois State University, eventually returning to the sport as an adult. From 2006 to 2014, Smith led various teams at the high school and college level to 30 national championship titles as an acrobatics, tumbling, and cheer coach. In 2014, she served as an associate head cheerleading coach for Ohio State, with her name immediately ringing bells during the HBCU’s hiring search.
“Back then, despite those accomplishments, cheer wasn’t deemed a sport, so nobody knew or really cared…I had built a successful Division III program from scratch without being able to offer scholarships. Morgan offered me the job, and here I am. My previous experience building something from the ground up helps in terms of getting this program launched,” said Smith.
As new head coach Smith was able to recruit 20 incoming freshmen for the new program. Many of the other players transferred from the cheerleading team. And two others are former track-and-field athletes. 21 student athletes have received partial scholarships so far — with three others getting a full-ride scholarship. Morgan State senior Ayona Young, who has been a member of the cheer team for three years, said she joined because of the excitement of competitive acrobatics and tumbling and what that could mean for a completely new team.
“I reached out to Coach Regina last February to see if I could find out what acrobatics and tumbling was all about. She gave me an overview of what the sport encompassed, told me what she’s looking for in athletes, how she runs practices, her expectations of team members in terms of work ethic and commitment and the scholarship money that was available. I made the decision to switch over right then and there,” said Young.
Smith said it was her primary goal to assemble an all-Black team with an all-Black coaching staff. She also required student athletes to have a GPA of 3.0 or higher and the necessary skills to compete at the Division I level.
“It’s never happened before,” said Smith.
Acrobatics and tumbling currently involves six events that require skills used in competitive cheerleading and gymnastics. The team practices at 6am before weight training, which is heavily monitored by strength and conditioning coach Tredell Dorsey, who also supervises the school’s track and field programs.
“I did a lot of research on this particular spot, with it being a combination of cheerleading and gymnastics. I had to formulate a plan of what they need from a movement standpoint to be successful on the floor. Being that they’re a new program, it’s a slightly different approach because we’re starting from scratch…Every time I’m coaching them up, I’m reminding them that they are the very first, that they’re setting the standard and the tone of how this program is going to be viewed in the next couple of months and years,” said Dorsey.
While the team focuses on strengthening their core, learning key balance techniques, and getting adjusted to their new student-athlete schedules, Smith is looking to the future and building a legacy at Morgan State University. The school also recently added a wrestling team. And the addition of the acrobatics and tumbling program will create more opportunities for women athletes and satisfy their Title IX requirements. For Smith, this first season is the opportunity to set a great foundation and make history that could have a reverberating impact for generations to come.
“Sometimes I sit down and reflect about my ancestors, the opportunities and educations that they weren’t afforded, and ponder the real heaviness of what’s happening here. This is definitely history in the making. People are asking me, ‘Coach, what does it feel like to be making history?’ I just think it’s something we won’t know the significance of until 20 or so years from now,” said Smith.
Photo by Morgan State