Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Former Alabama gymnast comes back for alumni night to coach her own inaugural team

CW/ Caroline Simmons

Former gymnastics head coach Sarah Patterson led the Alabama gymnastics team to several important victories, from SEC to NCAA titles. In doing so, she produced her own legacy and helped build several other legacies and legends.  

At Friday’s gymnastics meet, three Alabama gymnastics legends shaped by Patterson competed against one another.  

Alabama head coach Ashley Johnston, Minnesota assistant coach Geralen Stack-Eaton and Talladega College head coach Aja Sims-Fletcher all came back to Coleman Coliseum to coach their own teams for alumni night.  

Sims-Fletcher has built a legacy as a collegiate athlete and is now making history. She is the inaugural head coach for Talladega College’s gymnastics team. Talladega is the first historically Black college or university in Alabama and the second in the nation to host its own gymnastics program. Talladega gymnastics, and Sims-Fletcher, hopes to pave a path for future minority gymnasts.  

“When I got the call, I definitely felt underqualified per se. But I was really really excited,” Sims-Fletcher said. “Definitely, at first, had some self doubt, but through some great mentorship and great leadership I said yes.” 

With one more meet left in the season, Talladega gymnastics has posted a program high of 192.2. The team has also clinched six wins under Sims-Fletcher’s coaching.  

Sims-Fletcher credits her knowledge and coaching ability to her time spent at The University of Alabama. As an athlete, Sims-Fletcher learned under Patterson. After her time as an athlete, Sims-Fletcher returned to the University as an assistant coach under head coach Dana Duckworth.  

“After learning under great mentors like Dana Duckworth and Sarah Patterson, they helped me realize that I could learn what it took to be a head coach, even though I only came from more of a volunteer role working at The University of Alabama,” Sims-Fletcher said.  

Before Sims-Fletcher started coaching, she had an amazing career wearing the Script A leotard from 2014 to 2017. During her time at the University, the Crimson Tide gymnastics team traveled to the national championships each year. The team was sent to the national championships 2014 through 2016 after finishing first in regionals. In 2017, the Crimson Tide placed second in regionals and went to the national championships. During Sims-Fletcher’s time wearing the Script A, the Alabama gymnastics team had traveled to th national championships for 35 consecutive years. In Sims-Fletcher’s senior season, she was named captain. 

“Going through all of that as an athlete, especially with such amazing leadership like Sarah Patterson, was super monumental. Especially in the SEC, it just means more,” Sims-Fletcher said. “Every day, every moment was super inspirational, and I feel like I carry that over to this program now. We run that, we don’t take for granted any practices or opportunities when we get to do gymnastics. I feel like that came from what I learned at my time at Alabama.” 

Before becoming a seasoned collegiate athlete, Sims-Fletcher created a completely new uneven bars skill.  

“It’s called ‘The Sims.’ It’s a combination of two skills. It’s a Weiler kip to a Comaneci. I was the first to compete that at development nationals,” Sims-Fletcher said. “I trained it a little bit in college, but didn’t get to quite compete it in college just because of some different things. But it was really cool to have that.” 

As for this previous Friday, Sims-Fletcher entered the quad meet with nothing but groundedness in her mind as she continues to make history and coach her own legacy gymnasts.  

“This is really, really full circle,” Sims-Fletcher said. “It’s such an honor to be the inaugural head coach, and I’m super excited for this opportunity. It means a lot to be providing more opportunities for minority athletes, and just gymnasts who are also interested in doing gymnastics at an HBCU. I’m super super honored to be the first head coach here, and I’m super excited to spread that love for the sport.”  

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