It’s easy to discuss the rivals, the big matchups, the unexpected wins and the overthrown titles that we often forget the generosity and humility that runs through the veins of these NCAA teams. From welcoming transfers to treating lone qualifying gymnasts at nationals like their own, time and time again Florida shows that it’s about more than winning. And it’s done it again with the gift of leotards and a spring floor to Fisk, the country’s first gymnastics team at a Historically Black College and University.
Before Fisk head coach Corrinne Tarver was hired, the donation process had started years before. Tarver, a former Georgia gymnast, was a competitor against Florida head coach Jenny Rowland during her time as an Auburn Tiger and Oklahoma Sooner, forming a connection between the two. So when the time came to help, Rowland didn’t hesitate, saying that Florida’s executive associate athletics director for administration, Lynda Tealer, told her about Fisk’s new program and asked if they could do anything to help. “We can do lots of things,” Rowland said.
The Gators had just recently switched out their spring floor and among the dust came a bigger purpose for it. Rowland says it was not a difficult discussion when asking Tarver if she wanted the floor. “Yes, definitely yes! We’re [not] gonna say no to that,” Tarver said. Weeks later another encounter arose, and tank and sleeve leotards came into the mix. The Gator leotards are a piece of history, but a majority of them just sit around, especially after the designs fall out of rotation. Rowland said it was “a special thing” to be able to help the program.
As far as the process goes, long sleeve leotards had already been repurposed into tanks before they reached Fisk’s door. But Rowland noted long sleeve leotards were donated as well and to make sure to keep an eye on Fisk for familiar designs when the Bulldogs take the floor in January.
Despite the abundance of equipment and leotards the well-supplied Gators have, compliance and NCAA rules make it challenging to donate. The stars aligned for the Gators and Fisk, but that doesn’t happen very often. Donations among teams are rarely ever seen, but in the future Rowland said they’ll continue to be mindful about what they have and encourage anyone to reach out.
“Something as simple as a leotard can go a long way,” Rowland said.
As for Fisk, donations have stopped for the time being, but financially the team is doing well, as nice packages are given to the athletes and their gear will “rival other schools.”
With the buzz centering around NCAA gymnastics building up, new programs foster more and more publicity, especially from the first HBCU. In and outside the gym, Fisk embodies its motto: excellence, determination and a commitment to a better tomorrow. Tarver said she constantly reminds the team of its impact as high profile athletes. “We want them to carry themselves with the highest regards.”
The team puts lots of hours into community service and service learning as required to maintain their scholarships. As their excellence spans far outside the gym, the team will soon turn its attention to making an impact on the competition floor. And while Florida isn’t on the Bulldogs’ schedule in 2023, Rowland says it’s only a matter of time.
“[We] most definitely would love to have them in Florida.”
A Gator and Fisk alliance from the start, two NCAA teams come together to show it’s more than gymnastics.
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Article by Sydney Seabrooks; additional reporting by Emily Lockard and Brandis Heffner
NOTE: As a recruitable athlete, Seabrooks did not have any contact with current NCAA gymnasts or coaches. Her fellow editors helped conduct interviews where necessary.
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