Nicole James, a 1992 graduate of Grambling State University, has turned her passion for gymnastics into a business. She hopes to inspire young people to pursue a fun pastime and, perhaps, even a career.
“Back in 1987 when I was a freshman, there were very few girls of color in the sport of gymnastics,” she recalled. “It’s only been in recent years that the sport has produced upper-level gymnasts of color. It’s completely changing the face of the sport.”
James, who is from Thibodaux, La., earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communications/public relations at Grambling but gymnastics has always been in her blood.
“I started gymnastics at the age of 5,” she said. “I competed for 7 years.”
James competed at Centenary College on a gymnastics scholarship and later transferred to GSU for cheerleading. In gymnastics, she was an All-American in the vault, bars, beam, and all-around. She went on to become a National Beam Champion.
James said that if GSU had a program when she was in college, she definitely would have been a part of it.
“Having teammates who look like me would have made a huge difference in my training and the struggles that gymnasts of color face,” she said.
After college, she worked as a tumbling and cheer coach, gymnastics coach, and choreographer in various locations in Texas and Louisiana. She is a USA Gymnastics (USAG) Professional Member, USAG Safety Certified, and USAG Safe Sport Certified.
With her mother, James opened James Academy of Gymnastics (JAG) in Terrebonne Parish in October of 2004.
“Gymnastics had been a passion of mine and my mother for years,” she said. “After she retired, I went to her with the idea of building our own gym. Once she was on board, I sketched out plans for the vision I had. I took the best ideas from other programs I worked for to create the ideal gym for us.”
JAG embraces the opportunity to impact children’s lives through fun and discipline. The program offers classes for a variety of ages, regardless of ability, physical fitness, self-esteem, or character.
“We offer recreational Mommy and me classes for 18 months-24 months and 2 – 18 years of age,” she said. “We also have a competitive program for kids who want to pursue the elite level and college programs.”
For James, her love for gymnastics has not only enhanced her life but given her an opportunity to work in an area that she truly enjoys. She said she would love to see her alma mater start a gymnastics program.
“Having a gymnastics program would finally give gymnasts of color a place to continue their education as well as their gymnastics careers,” she said. “It would create a “safe space” for them in a sport that we have never had.”
Her experience in gymnastics was not always a positive one in college where she was sometimes not welcomed as a gymnast of color, James said.
“I hope for a better experience for students of color in gymnastics than I had,” she said. “Just being around other athletes who look like you and have shared the same hardships in the sport makes it easier to compete on the collegiate level.”
She said her students love college gymnastics.
“I always tell them that if they work hard, they can achieve anything,” James said. “Most want scholarships so that they can compete and further their education. I especially nurture my babies of color to help their dreams come true.”
“Once Dr. Scott has completed his transition in as our new Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics, I look forward to advancing the conversation around the addition of a gymnastics team here at GSU,” said Grambling State President Rick Gallot. “Becoming the only HBCU with a gymnastics team would certainly further the legacy of being a catalyst for change and the springboard for student-athletes to compete successfully in that sport.”
“We are always supportive of our alums and love to see they are doing great things in and around the community,” said Dr. Trayvean Scott, Grambling State VP for Intercollegiate Athletics. “The sport of gymnastics continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Our goal is to see what best fits for our brand and how we will be able to market the sport.”