Q&A with LaPrise Harris-Williams, head coach of Baylor acrobatics and tumbling

By Tori Jackson

LaPrise Harris-Williams is in her third season as head coach of Baylor’s newest intercollegiate athletics program, acrobatics and tumbling. Prior to her arrival at Baylor, Harris-Williams spent the last 18 years in San Antonio, Texas, as a tumbling clinician and choreographer. Harris-Williams has experience coaching all aspects of gymnastics, including acrobatics and tumbling and cheer. Harris-Williams was known as co-owner of Harris Gymnastics from 1995-2008, where she helped place two athletes on the 2001 World Team for USA Gymnastics.

Q: With being head coach, what do you think is your purpose?
A: To help guide student-athletes towards having a winning attitude and becoming champions on and off the mat.

Q: Why do you coach?
A: I enjoy watching athletes pass thresholds they never thought were possible. I believe sports provide a foundation for developing great work ethic, drive and builds character.

Q: What satisfaction do you get out of coaching?
A: I enjoy watching my athletes accomplish skills and goals that they have set that initially seemed unreachable. I believe teamwork and building relationships with my athletes is what continues to excite me.

Q: What drew you towards coaching acrobatics and tumbling?
A: I wanted to help provide an opportunity for female athletes in a new women’s sport.

Q: What is Acrobatics and Tumbling?
A: It is a combination of gymnastics tumbling and acrobatic skills. Bases and tops use dynamic and fixed elements to create the skills that are needed to compete in the six events.

Q: Is acrobatics and tumbling an NCAA sport?
A: Not yet. It is our hope to become an emerging sport within the next couple of years.

Q: What organization is Acrobatics and Tumbling under?
A: Acrobatics and tumbling is under the NCATA, the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association. This sport is sanctioned by USA Gymnastics.

Q: How many teams are in the NCATA?
A: There are a total of ten teams in the NCATA. The teams include: Adrian College, Alderson-Broaddus College, Azusa Pacific University, Baylor University, Fairmont State University, Gannon University, Hawaii Pacific University, King University, Quinnipiac University and the University of Oregon.

Q: What does meet format consists of?
A: There are 6 events that make up the entire meet format. The first event is the compulsory event, which consists of four heats: compulsory acro, pyramid, toss and tumbling. Every team does the same skills and every heat has a starting value of ten points.

The second event is the acro event, which consists of three heats: five element, six element and seven element. Each team has different starting values for each heat, not exceeding a ten. The third event is the pyramid event, which also consists of three heats. Every heat requires a specific skill. Similar to the acro event, each team has a different starting value for each heat.

The athletes will then take a short break, also called a half time, to warm up for the second half of the meet. Coming back from half time, the athletes will begin the fourth event, the toss event, which also consists of three heats: an individual toss, a synchronized toss and another individual toss. Each team will have different starting values for each heat, not exceeding ten points.

The fifth event is the tumbling event, which consists of six different heats: the duo, trio, quad, aerial, six element and the open pass. Each heat has a maximum starting value of a ten. The last event is the team event, which has a starting value of 110. The entire meet is worth 300 points.

Q: How are acrobatics and tumbling meets judged?
A: Acrobatics and tumbling is sanctioned by USA gymnastics. The athletes will perform every event and skill in front of a panel of certified judges. Every skill will have a starting value. The judges will deduct points from the starting value to determine the score the team gets. Whoever has the higher score after the final event, will win the competition.

Q: Who can participate?
A: This is a female sport. The goal of the NCATA is to bring acrobatics and tumbling to women’s emerging sports status.

Q: Can you try out for the team?
A: There are no try-outs for the team. We recruit just like other title nine sports on campus, like Equestrian and volleyball. If you are not recruited to be part of the team, there is a chance that an athlete walk-on to the team. The walk-on will receive no scholarship.

Q: Do the athletes lift weights?
A: Yes. We have athletic performance trainers designated to our team that assess the needs with the coaching staff each year to determine the areas that need to be strengthened or improved upon. The athletes consistently train throughout the season.

Q: How many hours a week are you allowed to practice?
A: Although we are not an NCAA sport, we follow the rules of the NCAA. Our athletes are allowed 20 hours of practice a week. The 20 hours are split between meetings, film, strength and conditioning and actual acrobatics and tumbling practice.

Q: How many athletes are on a roster?
A: Every school has a different number of female athletes on the roster.

Q: Does every athlete get to travel and compete?
A: No. Every team gets to have 28 athletes dressed in uniform at the meet. The 28 are allowed to participate in all of the events, except for team event. During team event, there are only allowed to be a maximum of 24 athletes.

Q: Is acrobatics and tumbling part of the spirit squads on campus?
A: Absolutely not. Acrobatics and tumbling has a code of points, skill requirements and competition guidelines that must be followed. Although the teams have similar skill requirements, acrobatics and tumbling is a varsity sport and their purpose is to compete.