WACO, Texas (KWTX) The official sport of acrobatics & tumbling didn't exist at the collegiate level until 2011. Every year since then, Felecia Mulkey has won a championship in the National Collegiate Acrobatics & Tumbling Association.
After four years at Oregon, Mulkey has now helped Baylor earn the last five national titles, but only under the NCATA.
Acrobatics & tumbling, along with wrestling, have been recommended by the NCAA Committee on Women's Athletics to be added to the NCAA Emerging Sports for Women program for participation at the Division I, II and III levels.
The NCAA already recognizes gymnastics as a championship sport. Cheerleading may not be in that same realm, but both male and female participants spend a considerable amount of time increasing fan engagement at other sporting events.
So, why should acrobatics & tumbling get the same credible backing as two other activities that may not mirror each other, but are relatively close?
"Even for schools with gymnastics teams, this is a perfect fit," Mulkey said. "They're training in the same skill set, but we're not recruiting the same athletes. We're looking for a different talent base. No less talented, just in a different area. You may not see them in the all-around competition in collegiate gymnastics, but they're great on the floor.
"When (people) first ask us the recruiting base, they think it's a negative because the sport of acrobatics & tumbling isn't at the high school level. But the skill set of acrobatics & tumbling is so popular. It's the most popular skill set in the United States."
WHEN COULD A&T JOIN THE NCAA?
Since January 2019, six universities have added acrobatics and tumbling -- Chowan, Coker, East Stroudsburg, Frostburg State, Trine and Mary-Hardin Baylor.
For A&T to be considered an NCAA championship sport, it needs 40 varsity programs. Currently, there are 31, but two of those schools are NAIA programs.
If 11 more NCAA-competing universities add acrobatics & tumbling, it could become an NCAA championship sport as early as August 1, 2020.
"We'll see how much we keep adding and how quickly, but once we reach championships status, I think that's when you'll see a difference in the sport," Mulkey said. "That's when the NCAA will step in more, but I think it's only going to get better."
WHICH SCHOOLS WOULD CONSIDER A&T?
Only four Division I programs have acrobatics & tumbling as a varsity sport -- Baylor, Oregon, Presbyterian and Quinnipiac. Twenty schools with A&T programs are at Division II, while four others are at Division III, including UMHB.
Mulkey says adding schools based on location would be preferred, but isn't the requirement.
Twenty-one universities competing in A&T are located in the Eastern time zone, so Oregon would probably prefer more varsity programs be added out west. Their 2018 schedule included trips to Hawaii Pacific, Baylor (Waco -- 2,044 miles), Concordia (Mequon, Wisconsin -- 2,181 miles) and Gannon (Erie, Pennsylvania -- 2,567 miles).
"It's been really fun to watch the growth the last two years, and to see different schools in Texas and across the country add the program," Baylor Deputy Athletics Director Dawn Rogers said. "Being able to talk to colleagues that are looking for teams to add to their athletic programs, you didn't hear them talk about acrobatics & tumbling a few years ago, but now it's a serious topic of discussion for Division I schools to add opportunities for women to compete."
More programs wouldn't just create more opportunities for athletes. Coaching and mentorship positions would be created, too.
"It's been fun in the last two years to watch what this sport has become," Rogers said. "There are young kids performing at the meets, opportunities are being created in the new sport that combines the elements of other sports, and it's a new avenue to college."