Wilberforce latest to join ranks of HBCUs putting women’s gymnastics teams on the floor

By Elizabeth Barker
Contributing Writer

WILBERFORCE, Ohio – Wilberforce University announced in February its first women’s gymnastics team in partnership with Brown Girls Do Gymnastics (BGDG). The expansion is the third Historically Black College or University (HBCU) gymnastics program in the nation, following Talladega College in Alabama, which started its program in January 2023.

Brown Girls Do Gymnastics is an advocacy organization that works to help Brown Girls through their acrobatic careers, according to BGDG’s website. Founded by Derrin Moore, BGDG’s mission is to increase access and expand outreach in gymnastics. The organization provides access, coaching, training, and other forms of support to athletes from underrepresented and marginalized groups.

According to College Gym News, BGDG has been working to make HBCU gymnastics a reality for almost a decade. Grambling State University in Louisiana was the first school to connect with BGDG in June 2020 about implementing a gymnastics program. Still, plans fell through due to staffing changes within the athletic department. The first program started later in February 2022 when Fisk University in Nashville partnered with BGDG to assemble the first HBCU gymnastics team in US history.

In January last year, Fisk University finished fourth in the Super 16 Gymnastics Invitational in Las Vegas. They made history as the first HBCU gymnastics team to compete at the NCAA level in an organized event.

Dr. Vann R. Newkirk, former president of Fisk University and current president of Wilberforce University, said this collaboration will strengthen the university’s move to create more diversity in its athletics program.

“The introduction of a gymnastics team aligns with our commitment to provide inclusive athletic programs and highlights our belief in the power of diversity in sports and empowering future generations of gymnasts,” President Dr. Vann R. Newkirk said in a press release issued this spring.

This partnership was announced shortly after Wilberforce added women’s volleyball and soccer programs expected to begin this fall.

Wilberforce is set to host Camp Isla™ on campus this summer from June 20-23. Camp Isla™ started at the 2021 BGDG annual conference at Grambling State University when parents asked if they could have a longer conference and gymnasts asked if they could train more, according to the Isla Foundation website. Camp Isla™ is now in its third season, providing athletes with the opportunity to train and develop skills, interact with fellow gymnasts and coaches, and lay the groundwork for connecting HBCUs to gymnastics.

BGDG and Wilberforce Athletic Director John Hill declined to comment, explaining that they would “prefer not to expand upon the details of the partnership” or the team’s plans.

Given the success already had between HBCUs and BGDG, the future looks bright for more HBCU gymnastics programs. With BGDG’s continued success within its annual conference, high attendance at Camp Isla™, and goals dedicated to more diversity and inclusion in the sport, the future looks even brighter for Brown Girls who want to do gymnastics.

As of right now, the new Wilberforce gymnastics team is set to begin competing in January 2026.

For more information about BGDG, visit Brown Girls Do Gymnastics website.

Barker earned her bachelor’s degree in communication from UD in May.

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