The Moore American

March 12, 2014

OU gymnasts breaking down stereotypes

By Michael Kinney
The Moore American

MOORE — Growing up, Sergey Resnick didn’t see many gymnast that looked like him. The Houston native was often the only black male in his class or at most meets.

“I had a lot of black friends that went to predominant black schools. I was one of the few guys at my school that actually did gymnastics. They were cool about it. A lot of the other guys would challenge me to flip-offs to see who could flip better. But I always won that challenge,” Resnick said.

Resnick no longer does flip-offs in the middle of his neighborhood streets. He’s also no loner searching to see other athletes who resemble him. As a member of the Oklahoma men’s gymnastics team, he’s one of four black gymnasts in a sport where that is a rarity.

Resnick, Raymond White, Michael Reid and William Clement are not only vital parts of the top-ranked Sooners gymnastics team, but they also are a part of a long line of black gymnasts at Oklahoma.

“I know in 1990 we had Orson Sykes,” Sooners coach Mark Williams said. “He was on the 1991 National Championship team. Honestly, we’ve had an African-American gymnast I think almost every year since then. It’s never been a big deal. Maybe I’m a little bit more like Barry Switzer, if somebody has enough talent to make the team, I don’t care what color he is.”

That includes Oklahoma’s Taqiy Abdullah-Simmons who made history when he became the first black gymnast to win the NCAA all-around national title in 2007. It was an accomplishment that surprised the All-American back then.

While the likes of Mike Carter, Ron Galimore, Charles Lakes and Chainey Umphrey held break down barriers in the sport, it’s still not as inclusive as many would like to see.

“We are not exactly a country club elitist sport, but it’s hard to translate to have an African American gymnast go to a private club, pay the tuition costs,” Williams said. “It’s a special environment where you can’t just run down the street and do it on a field or have a court nearby. You really have to economically have the ability to do that. The coaching, the use of facilities and all that stuff. And sometimes it doesn’t translate as well to the inner city period. Most of our athletes are suburban kids from more affluent backgrounds It’s a little bit more of a struggle maybe. But that’s just the reality of the way our sport is set up.”

For the current Sooners, they notice the lack of diversity on other teams. It’s not an uncommon occurrence for them to have the only black gymnast at meets. It’s something Reid says he notices right away how unique his team is.

“It’s a little bit different,” Reid said. “Most teams don’t have any. It’s just kind of nice. You always notice.”

However, each of them said they are starting to see changes in their sport as more teams start to diversify.

Williams credits the change to bigger name black gymnast getting exposure, such as Olympian John Orozco. But also grass roots effort by coaches and players around the country.

For the Sooners that means going to elementary schools and letting youth get to learn more about the sport and the gymnasts. As a byproduct the kids see a diverse roster at Oklahoma.

“I think it’s an important part of it,” Williams said. “When you have kids exposed to the same thing all the time, sometimes there is just a fear of the unknown if nothing else. Having my guys just become real people around them, they are representing my program, the university and the sport of gymnastics. I think that exposure to the community is obviously the key to anything.”

White’s career at Oklahoma will come to an end after this season. In his four years he’s seen changes at the NCAA level, but it’s the youth where he sees the most transformations taking place.

“We actually host the OU camp in the summer, and we’ve had multiple black gymnast show up to that,” White said. “A lot of them say they are inspired to be in gymnastics because of us. That helps us to keep going. Just to have any of them come and say they are inspired by us, let alone the black athletes that can identify that this is a sport that’s been predominantly white, is awesome.”

Michael Kinney Follow me @eyeamtruth mkinney@normantranscript.com