Baylor’s Felecia Mulkey had been sitting on the news a week, so its official release on Monday wasn’t any grand shock to her system.
But she’s giddy nonetheless – especially as she’s seen the reaction from others in her sport.
On Monday, the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics announced that it has recommended two sports – acrobatics and tumbling, and women’s wrestling – to its “emerging sports” program. If adopted by three levels of NCAA governance, the sports would join the program on Aug. 1, 2020.
Since its infancy 11 years ago, A&T has fallen under the leadership of the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association (NCATA). So, what does the emerging sport label bring?
Credibility, said Mulkey.
“It’s that stamp of approval,” said Mulkey, who has won the past five NCATA national titles as Baylor’s head A&T coach. “It’s just that nod from the NCAA that we needed. We’re in a really unique position. It’s great for women’s wrestling, and the opportunities that will open up for women in that sport. But A&T wasn’t even a sport until 11 years ago. We created a sport using skill sets that were already available to truly meet a need. So this is unprecedented.
“But the biggest thing is, now when I go to speak to coaches or athletic administrators, it’s no longer just me knocking on that door.”
The NCATA currently consists of 31 varsity programs competing on the collegiate level – 29 NCAA schools and two in NAIA. Six of those schools have announced the addition of their programs since January.
In order to reach the status of an NCAA championship sport, at least 40 NCAA institutions must participate, putting acrobatics and tumbling 11 schools away. Asked what the timetable is for A&T reaching championship sport status, Mulkey quickly quipped, “Yesterday.”
“I actually tweeted earlier today, I’m allowing myself a five-minute celebration, and then we’re getting back to work,” she added. “Obviously schools don’t add a sport overnight, there’s a time frame there. But this (emerging sport announcement) could be a turning point. I’m taking on those 11 remaining schools as a personal challenge.”
The Emerging Sports for Women program began in 1994, and over the years it has seen several sports vault from that spot to championship status, including beach volleyball, rowing, ice hockey, water polo and bowling. The program currently shelters three sports under its umbrella – equestrian, rugby and triathlon.
For Mulkey, who was part of the group that presented to the NCAA’s Committee for Women’s Athletics, the sweetest part of Monday’s announcement was sharing it with other people. She credited the acrobatics and tumbling alumni at Baylor and other schools, calling them “the true pioneers” of the sport.
She also spent some quality time on the phone with Azusa Pacific coach Colleen Kausrud, Quinnipiac’s Mary Ann Powers and Fairmont State’s Kristi Kiefer, who were part of A&T’s quest to reach emerging sport status since “the first day,” she said.
“Oh, we were Facebooking and Facetiming and everything, and it was amazing,” Mulkey said. “But the sweetest part was sharing it with our alumni, because this was built on their shoulders.”