Texas long ago established itself as an artistic gymnastics hotbed. The state’s gyms have produced a disproportionate share of Olympians and high-level competitors.
“Texas in general, Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio - we have the best gymnasts that come out of this state,” said one of those Olympic athletes, Houston native Jonathon Horton. “Texas has some of the best coaches, some of the best athletes.”
Fort Worth in particular has established itself as one of the most important cities in gymnastics. Fort Worth-born Gar O'Quinn competed in the sport in the 1960 Games in Rome, and the city’s convention center hosted the World Gymnastics Championships in 1979 and the American Cup four times since 1981.
In 2015, Fort Worth served as the site of the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships for the first time. The Fort Worth Convention Center also hosted the event in 2016 and 2019. The pandemic canceled 2020’s championships, scheduled for the new Dickies Arena in the Cultural District. The new facility will now host the event in 2021 and each year through at least 2026.
Even before landing the national title competition, the city welcomed top collegiate programs to compete in the Metroplex Challenge each January. Since 2012, top clubs have brought their gymnasts to the Convention Center to compete on Friday, followed on Saturday by a quad meet featuring four highly-rated NCAA teams. The event’s success helped pave the way for Fort Worth to attract the championships, as top collegiate coaches saw what the city had to offer.
“They had great experiences,” explained Bryan Streeter, owner and founder of Metroplex Gymnastics and the Metroplex Challenge. “They saw how nice Fort Worth is, how the hospitality is great. The people are nice.”
With Texas, somewhat amazingly, having no NCAA Division I gymnastics programs, though Denton's Texas Women's University (who is a host partner alongside Fort Worth Sports) does compete in Division II, these competitions provide the many aspiring gymnasts in the area a chance to still learn from watching some of the best in the sport.
“If you're a young gymnast aspiring to do that, definitely get to this competition and watch,” noted Metroplex Challenge attendee and 1996 Olympic gold medalist Jaycie Phelps, referring to the upcoming NCAA Championships.
Streeter suggested that young gymnasts in attendance keep an eye on details like stuck landings, but that the most important takeaway has nothing to do with technique.
“It's just, it's about fun. I mean, for the kids out there, it's about fun,” he said. “What they should be looking for is just what's going to inspire them.”
The fact that the gymnasts compete for their universities can open the eyes of young spectators to a potentially enjoyable aspect of what is often viewed as an individual sport.
“Watch a collegiate team and how they rally around each other and how much they care about each other and watch the power that it gives the athlete that is competing, because there's something special about not competing for yourself and competing for the people around you,” said Horton, who won three NCAA team titles as a collegian.
“And I love when young athletes can really grasp how awesome it is to compete for your team.”
Horton’s alma mater, the Oklahoma Sooners, have won the Metroplex Challenge three years in a row, and one can certainly consider them among the front-runners to win the national competition in Fort Worth in April. They also took the NCAA title here in 2016. As Fort Worth continues to build its reputation in the sport, top-tier programs and athletes like the Sooners will no doubt aim to return to the city as often as possible.
Dickies Arena hosts the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships April 16-17, 2021. Click here for more information about the NCAA Championship and how to buy tickets.