Coach Magee seeks a sponsor who could change that
Robyn Magee is in her third season as University of Wisconsin-La Crosse gymnastics assistant coach, choreographer, and recruiting coordinator. In her spare time, she is a tireless advocate for diversity in her sport.
“Maybe five to 10% that are in the collegiate atmosphere are women of color, and that’s just off the top of my head,” guesstimated Magee in an MSR phone interview.
Magee is one of 11 Black female assistant coaches, an all-time high in the NCAA player and coach demographics over a nine-year span (2012-2021), along with three Black head coaches in non-HBCU schools in all three divisions, up from two in 2020 and one in 2016.
There were 133 Black gymnasts in 2021—the total number in 2012 was 83. Many credit the rise of Blacks and other people of color in the sport to the success demonstrated by Gabby Douglas, the first Black woman to win the Olympic all-around title in 2012, and Simone Biles in 2016.,
“I was a gymnast growing up,” said Magee, a New Orleans, La. native who competed at the regional and national level for 13 years, finishing her career as a Level 10 gymnast. “When I was younger, at a lot of the gyms that I attended” there weren’t many who looked like her, she recalled. “It never really bothered me because I was good at what I did… I was still focused on my craft.
“I wanted to compete in college,” and especially at her home state school LSU, but an Achilles injury suffered in her junior year in high school all but derailed her initial goal, continued Magee. “I’m from Louisiana, and that was going to be home for me regardless of whether I did gymnastics.”
After her injury, “It was really hard to be recruited after that time. I really wanted to go to LSU.” She did attend the school, however, and earned a sociology degree while minoring in business and sport studies in 2017. She later earned a sports management master’s degree from Florida A&M in 2019.
It was at FAMU that Magee turned her attention to Black college gymnastics in her research and discovered that the sport didn’t exist at HBCUs.
Grambling State last summer announced the possibility of adding women’s gymnastics in the next three to five years. The fifth annual Brown Girls Do Gymnastics conference, attended by 100 Black and Brown gymnasts, was held there last summer as well. Founder Derrin Moore’s overall goal is to provide “scholarships, coaching, training and other forms of support to athletes from underrepresented and marginalized groups.”
Magee also wants to see HBCU gymnastics. “I am currently working on some different avenues, reaching out to different businesses and companies to sponsor an HBCU,” she said. “Contrary to belief, it’s not as expensive [to start a gymnastics program] as people perceive, because a lot of different gymnastics communities often are very supportive.”
College gymnastics can be pricey, however. The University of Minnesota reported on the NCAA annual financial report that the school spent over $1.3 million for total gymnastics operating expenses in fiscal year 2020. It is among the non-revenue sports as well.
This hasn’t yet discouraged Magee in her dream to help promote HBCU gymnastics. She estimates it might take about $150,000 to start a program.
Magee calls coaching at UWL, a Division III school, “a humbling experience, because Division III [schools] do not offer athletic scholarships, so those athletes are literally coming to do their sports for the love and the passion of it. I’m still so focused on my craft.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.