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A sport for women, created by women

A sport for women, created by women

By Janell Cook, executive director of the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association (NCATA), and Mary Ann Powers, head coach of acrobatics & tumbling at Quinnipiac University

Acrobatics & tumbling is the first sport in a century that was created for women by women. The interests and abilities of young women were primary to cementing a competitive and fan-friendly format for this sport. And fan-friendly it is, as can be witnessed by the game-day attendance at the 17 current universities supporting the sport. 

As one ticket-office person described, “I am not surprised by the enthusiasm of the little girls and family members who come to watch these women in action. However, what is extraordinary is the ‘ordinary’ sports fan who arrives curious, but leaves inspired by the scope of the landscape these pioneers have built”. 

The sport is fun to watch. As one "traditional" college athlete stated: “These women do skills that no one else on our campus can begin to imagine”. 

The pioneers of acrobatics & tumbling weren't afraid to dream big. When the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association  (NCATA) was formed, the mission was simple -- provide opportunities for more young women to compete at the collegiate level.  Despite over five million girls competing in gymnastics (and another three million who utilize gymnastics skill sets in the activity of cheerleading), the opportunities for varsity collegiate competition are limited to approximately 1,600 positions available on women’s collegiate (artistic) gymnastics rosters.  Simply put, a new and safe haven supported by athletic training, academic assistance, strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists, scholarships, and proper budgets would be nailed into once-barren walls.

Discussion began.  How could the skill sets of acrobatics and tumbling translate to a competitive sport in the collegiate athletic environment?  Six of the original NCATA coaches examined existing NCAA competition formats in sports like gymnastics, track and field, and basketball as they collaborated to create an entirely new format in which teams would compete head to head.  They researched and worked with administrators to ensure the sport met the provisions laid out in Title IX to be considered a varsity sport on college campuses. They reviewed NCAA policies to form comparable rules for competition season, training schedule, recruiting and eligibility.

Thus a new sport was created and it was time to put the roof on the structure. Acrobatics & tumbling and its governing body, the NCATA, were officially founded in 2010.  The sport became sanctioned and named a discipline of USA Gymnastics within three years of its formation. In just seven years, Acrobatics & Tumbling has provided over 500 young women the life changing experience of competing as a varsity student-athlete.  

“By my senior year of college, after a lifetime of arguing with individuals who refused to admit I was an athlete, my university stood behind me and said, ‘Yes you are’. Now, I will be the first to agree with you if you are saying that standing on the sidelines in a skirt, with pom-poms, cheering on another team is not a sport, but for the majority of my teammates over the years, this was just something we had to do in order to do what we really wanted; to compete. When Quinnipiac University helped create the female collegiate sport ‘Acrobatics & Tumbling’, I could not have been happier. Don’t get me wrong, I loved supporting my fellow athletes, but preferred to do it as a fan in the stands. We were given a strength-and-conditioning coach who went above and beyond to learn and understand our sport and where each team member would need to improve. Our athletic trainers were on hand at every practice, attending to any injuries and making sure we were only pushing our bodies to the extent that they could handle at that time. The change had begun, and I could not have been more proud to be a part of it.”
-- Alicia Chouinard, Quinnipiac University acrobatics & tumbling alumni and Senior Producer/Editor at CSN New England

There's no denying the impact of the student-athlete experience in the lives of young women. In a 2014 survey of 400 female executives, more than 50 percent played collegiate athletics and an astounding 97 percent competed in sport at some point in their lives.  The experience is transformative, providing the structure and opportunities for young women to develop the confidence, skills and proficiency to be highly successful in their careers after their collegiate days are over.

What remains remarkable is that the tenacity displayed by administration, coaches and athletes has grown this sport without yet attaining NCAA emerging-sport status. Seventeen colleges and universities currently sponsor acrobatics & tumbling as a varsity sport on their campus. This year, the ECAC announced the first-ever Acrobatics and Tumbling League as a conference sport.  And this summer, the NCATA will submit a proposal to the NCAA for emerging-sport status, its goal from the very beginning.

Women are still leading the way with acrobatics & tumbling.  At all seventeen NCATA member schools, a woman is the head coach.  Five of the six original coaches remain, sharing the history with the younger ranks.  Many are former student-athletes, applying their personal experience to the mentorship and instruction of their own team.  While much has been accomplished, this inspired group of women is just getting started providing a place to call home.

Khris Davis homers off Price in 8th, A's top Red Sox

Khris Davis homers off Price in 8th, A's top Red Sox

Khris Davis hit a tiebreaking, three-run homer off David Price with two outs in the eighth inning and the Oakland Athletics beat the Boston Red Sox 4-1 on Sunday.

A day after getting no-hit by Sean Manaea, Boston lost back-to-back games for the first time under new manager Alex Cora.

The Red Sox had won their first six series this season before dropping two of three at the Coliseum. They still have the best record in the majors at 17-4.

Davis had two hits and drove in all four runs for the A's. Marcus Semien and Stephen Piscotty added two hits apiece as Oakland won for the sixth time in seven games.

Semien and Piscotty hit back-to-back singles off Price (2-2) with one out in the eighth. After Jed Lowrie struck out for the third time, Davis lined the first pitch into the seats in left field for his sixth home run.

Davis also had an RBI single off Price in the first.

Price allowed nine hits and four runs over 7 2/3 innings. He struck out six and walked one.

Coming off Manaea's gem, the A's got another strong pitching performance against the hard-hitting Red Sox. Daniel Mengden gave up one run in 6 1/3 innings and Blake Treinen (1-1), Oakland's third reliever, retired five batters to win.

Treinen appeared to injure his left ankle while fielding Blake Swinhart's comebacker but remained in the game and got Christian Vazquez to fly out to end it.

Mitch Moreland had two hits and Brock Holt drove in Boston's lone run.

Mengden allowed a pair of first-inning singles, then retired 16 of 17 before yielding back-to-back hits in the seventh. He left after giving up Holt's tying RBI double in the seventh.


Red Sox: LHP Bobby Poyner was activated off the disabled list and optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket. He had been out with a left hamstring strain.


Red Sox: RHP Rick Porcello (4-0, 1.40) pitches the opener of a three-game series in Toronto on Tuesday. He has thrown 13 consecutive scoreless innings over his previous two starts.

Athletics: RHP Trevor Cahill (1-0, 0.00) makes his second start of the season Monday at Texas. It's the first time this season that the A's will leave the West Coast.


Prototypical Patriots: Vander Esch, Evans offer different strengths

Prototypical Patriots: Vander Esch, Evans offer different strengths

The Patriots have a need smack dab in the middle of their defense and they might be able to address it with one of their first selections in this year's draft. 

The linebacker level could use an upgrade, and based on some of the players the Patriots have been watching closely during the pre-draft process, they feel the same way. 

Typically the Patriots look for good size, sound instincts and solid production at the collegiate level when they look for rookie 'backers. If you have special teams experience or you saw time in the SEC . . . even better. 

We rolled through several linebacker names who could fit with the Patriots in our "Linebacker Lowdown" series, and we'll include many of those on this list as well. But there are a few new names worth mentioning before Thursday night so let's get to it. 




Smith is only in range if the Patriots are willing to package together multiple picks to move up into the top 10. An outstanding athlete, who diagnoses quickly and can both cover and rush? Oh, and he dominated in the SEC? Smith sounds like Bill Belichick's kind of guy. Click here for the "Linebacker Lowdown" piece on Smith. He's smaller than what Belichick typically likes, which might prevent the Patriots from trading up for him, but he's a player. 


One NFC assistant noted that Edmunds didn't flash much "nasty" on tape for the Hokies. Even at his size, he doesn't always use it to overpower opponents. But at 19 years old, and as one of the best athletes in the draft, he could be molded to perform multiple front-seven duties. He was compared by one evaluator to a more physically-impressive version of Jamie Collins. As with Smith, the Patriots would have to move up for Edmunds. 


On paper, Vander Esch is one of the best fits for the Patriots because of his size and athleticism. He tore up the combine, and in one year as a starter, he proved he could be very productive against the run as well as cover. He's a do-it-all, three-down type . . . and he should be getting better. Vander Esch reportedly visited New England late in the pre-draft process.


Another tremendous fit based on Belichick's draft history. The 'Bama connection may make Evans even better-suited for life in New England. For me, it's a simple question of what you're looking for? Evans is an explosive athlete -- even though he didn't test like one, possibly due to injury -- who is a demon in the run game. He's also an adept pass-rusher through the A-gaps or even off the edge. Before he played off the line, he was an outside linebacker for Nick Saban. If the Patriots want a smaller version of Dont'a Hightower (in terms of his position flexibility), Evans could be the guy. More on him here.


Carter was a versatile defender in the SEC who played both off the edge and in coverage. Sound like a Patriots fit yet? What if I told you he also happened to be one of the freakiest athletes in the draft class (4.5-second 40) with long arms? The only reason the Patriots may hesitate is that, despite Carter's physical gifts and impressive football IQ, he didn't dominate as a collegian. Was that an effort issue? If the Patriots are comfortable with his approach after studying up on him, they could pounce in the late first round or early second. He could be the "Will" linebacker of the future in New England.


Warner was described to me by one assistant as an ideal fit for the Patriots. His athleticism is certainly NFL-caliber, but he it's his position versatility that puts him over the edge. He was in coverage for a significant number of snaps in college, and when he went to the Senior Bowl and played more of a traditional "Will" linebacker role, he opened eyes. Special teams could also be in his future. He could be a Patriot as early as the late second round. 


Leadership? Time in the SEC, and playing for a program Belichick appreciates? Top-notch athleticism (6.82-second three-cone, 131-inch broad jump)? Varied experience on defense, having played safety and multiple linebacker roles? What part of Burks' game won't the Patriots like? He may be a bit raw in terms of the winding road his career has taken, going from one position to the next. But otherwise? He feels like a Patriots Day 3 target.


Jewell is a very different player compared to the one who precedes him on this list. Jewell is a middle linebacker. He's also relatively slow, and his special-teams value may be nil. But Jewell may be one of the smartest linebackers, if not the smartest, in the class. How far will that get him? He could be worth a third-round choice if the Patriots feel they need a ready-to-go field general


Another marginally-athletic but instinctive linebacker with what are considered strong leadership skills, Cichy could be a Patriots fit on Day 3. He'll have to be medically cleared -- he missed Wisconsin's last 20 games with injuries -- but what he does to disrupt plays in tight spaces has definite value. He also has some special-teams experience, giving him another avenue to an NFL roster. 


Jefferson's combination of size and athleticism could get him drafted early on Day 2. His tape might not suggest that he's worthy of that type of selection -- he just doesn't have that much experience in coverage to project as a seamless three-down fit in today's NFL -- but coaches will salivate over his power and movement skills (4.52-second 40, 36-inch vertical). 


In an era when the linebackers are getting smaller and more athletic, McCray is a bit of a throwback. That could mean the Patriots are interested. He's not the rangiest second-level defender, far from it, but if the Patriots are looking to play more 3-4 looks under Belichick and Brian Flores, McCray could fit the profile. He's a Day 3 choice, in all likelihood.


Is Baker still an ascending player who can build up his body and his feel for the game to complement his natural athleticism? Or is he what he's going to be? If it's the latter, there's a role for him on special teams and perhaps as a 4-3 "Will" linebacker. But if the Patriots are looking for more of an all-purpose option, someone who can play on first and second down, they may turn elsewhere.


Moore is one of the most instinctive linebackers in the class, and those instincts led to an extremely high level of production -- both in the running game (led the team in tackles for four years) and passing game (seven picks in the last two seasons). Injury concerns and some off-the-field issues while at South Carolina might knock him down the board, but Belichick personally spent time with Moore at the South Carolina pro day. 


Another undersized linebacker whose athleticism could catch Belichick's attention (4.61-second 40, 6.64-second three-cone), O'Daniel has extensive special-teams experience. If he's there in the later rounds, he could be worth a shot. 


If it's a stouter (albeit less athletic) linebacker the Patriots are after, there's another prospect who played for Saban who could be of interest. Hamilton was his high school's valedictorian, and he was the primary signal-caller for the Crimson Tide over the previous two years. He's projected to be a late-round pick after suffering knee injuries that ended each of his last two seasons prematurely. If he checks out medically, maybe Belichick feels like there's value there. 


Coming out of Urban Meyer and Greg Schiano's defense, Worley's transition to the NFL -- in terms of his understanding of schemes -- should be a relatively smooth one. To have a shot at getting drafted by the Patriots, they'll have to fall in love with his work in the kicking game. According to Pro Football Focus, Worley played 172 special-teams snaps in the last two seasons. 


Scales isn't an eyebrow-raising athlete (4.77 seconds), and he's a bit undersized, but he was extremely productive for the Hoosiers. He had six sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss as a middle-of-the-field linebacker last season, and for his career he had eight picks. Add in the fact that Scales seems like a special-teams fit at the next level, and he could be a Day 3 pick.