Those who enjoy exciting, fast-paced, audience-friendly competition will be doing cartwheels when Gannon University’s new acrobatics and tumbling program kicks off its first season this spring.
Gannon is one of only 10 institutions in the United States to sponsor an acrobatics and tumbling team, and practices are already underway for its 20 student-athletes.
The team found an experienced head coach in University of Oregon All-American Chelsea Shaw. A four-year letterman, Shaw helped Oregon win back-to-back national championships in 2011 and 2012.
Acrobatics and tumbling combines various elements of gymnastics – balance, flexibility, power, strength and coordination. Athletes wear form-fitting jerseys and shorts similar to volleyball uniforms as well as pliable gloves.
Meets are usually between two teams and last 90 minutes. They are broken into six segments – compulsory, acro, pyramid, toss, tumbling and team – which consist of several “heats.” Aside from team, just a few players participate in each event.
Compulsory requires that both teams perform the same moves, creating a level playing field. Acro focuses on gymnastics, and pyramid allows each team to form pyramid structures. In toss and tumbling, the women get airborne. Finally, the team puts everything together in a synchronized, two-minute routine. Scores are based on the execution of skills.
“Half of my job is just going around educating people because people simply don’t know,” Shaw said. “It’s brand new.”
Paisley Moses, a freshman undeclared major and Eugene, Ore., native, switched from competitive cheerleading to tumbling and acrobatics.
“I wanted to do this sport because I’ve watched Oregon do it,” she said. “I thought it was really cool and I wanted to be part of a program like that.”
Likewise, Ciara Rand was a competitive cheerleader in her hometown of Goodyear, Ariz., before coming to Gannon.
“I thought it was a really neat opportunity,” the freshman pre-med major said. “We could still do what we’ve done for a long time but at a collegiate level.”
Moses, Rand and their teammates practice five days a week – sometimes as early as 6 a.m. – and lift weights three days a week. The weightlifting is crucial, Shaw said, for the girls to be able to lift one another.
“It’s new for a lot of them,” Shaw said. “They’re trying to adjust to the schedule, but they’re all doing really well. And we train smart, so on days that we lift and run heavy, we don’t do a lot of impact at practice.”
Gannon’s Director of Athletics Mark Richard expressed his enthusiasm for the new program to Gannon Sports.
“There has been an increased popularity and demand for the sport of acrobatics and tumbling during recent years,” Richard said. “This provides high school female student-athletes the opportunity to compete at the highest level as a Lady Knight.
“We are extremely excited to watch this sport grow and eventually become a fully sanctioned NCAA varsity sport.”
Throughout the season, Gannon will go up against three-time defending national champion University of Oregon, Alderson Broaddus (W.Va.), Azusa Pacific (Calif.), Baylor (Texas), Fairmont State (W.Va.), Hawai’i Pacific, King (Tenn.), Quinnipiac (Conn.) and Adrian (Mich.)
Gannon’s first meet will take place Feb. 9 at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.
“It’s such an honor for them to be here,” Shaw said, “and it’s an honor for me to be working with them. I’m excited to see how much we can accomplish this year.”