Sumter High School senior Eliza Ackerman signed a letter of intent on Thursday at Miss Libby's School of Dance and Gymnastics, where she trained, to join a newly created acrobatics and tumbling team at Presbyterian College. Ackerman is the first of …
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Sumter High School senior Eliza Ackerman signed a letter of intent on Thursday at Miss Libby's School of Dance and Gymnastics, where she trained, to join a newly created acrobatics and tumbling team at Presbyterian College. Ackerman is the first of Miss Libby's gymnastics students to pursue the sport with any college program, according to head gymnastics coach Tiffany Butler.
"This is huge," said Butler. "This is the first time we've sent one of our gymnasts to college for our sport, so that's very exciting for us. And you can't find a better kid. She is going to do big things, and this is not the big thing for her."
Ackerman started with gymnastics when she was five or six years old, she said, and competed for eight seasons, reaching the Xcel Platinum level with the team before stepping away from it in about 2015.
"I hit the ground running," she said. "I decided it was what I wanted to do, and I competed for so long but just had too many injuries that I just had to sit out for a while."
She said she has continued to condition and to coach some of the younger gymnasts since then, but that the call from Presbyterian Acrobatics and Tumbling head coach Amber King was an exciting surprise.
"I think she saw on my college application that I had been a gymnast for a long time, and that's who she tries to recruit," said Ackerman, the team's second signee. "She reached out to me, and we've been in contact for a long time, with her letting me know what it was going to take."
According to Butler, Acrobatics and tumbling is a subset of gymnastic events involving only the floor, and so is much less expensive for a college to implement than full-blown gymnastics programs like that at the University of Georgia, a national power. Among South Carolina colleges, only Converse College and Limestone College offer the sport besides Presbyterian, but schools like the University of Oregon, Baylor University and the University of Hawaii have nationally recognized A&T teams.
"For gymnastics, there aren't that many spots available on teams, so with tumbling, you have the kids that may not have been able to do all four events in college that can still do something different and still be part of an NCAA Division I team," Butler said. "Acro-Tumbling is only on the floor, and combines tumbling with stunting. They do individual stunts with three to four girls and then they do tumbling with a handful and then a whole team routine at the end."
"I hated quitting gymnastics," Ackerman said. "It was the worst; but trying to get back into it just didn't work out. Leaving it was hard, but when Coach King got in touch with me, I got super excited. I know it's going to be a lot of hard work, but I can't wait."
Ackerman said she is excited about the opportunity to compete, but also about the opportunity to build strong friendships and strengthen her faith through the team. She said she was familiar with the school because her mother, Kipper, is an alumna.
"I had been to PC a few times, and then went to Palmetto Girls State and stayed there for a week and fell in love with it," said Eliza, who plans to major in Special Needs Education and continue to work with children after she graduates. "What I'm able to expose myself to at PC is wonderful.
"When I was in high school and middle school, gymnastics really helped with my time management, so I'm hoping it will help me with that," she said. "I also think that being on this team will help me strengthen my faith and help me grow through everything that we do."
Kipper Ackerman said she knew nothing about the sport of acrobatics and tumbling, but has quickly become hooked on it and is thrilled with her daughter's decision.
"It demands a discipline from the girls and they have to manage their time like nobody else," she said. "That was something I believe was cultivated right here (at Miss Libby's). Any child that has to devote that much time outside school and away from home in such a committed sport has to figure out how to make it work.
"When she decided to leave gymnastics and focus on other extracurricular activities to get prepared for leadership opportunities, it was hard for us because we had seen her excel in gymnastics," Kipper Ackerman said. "Presbyterian just offers a family environment and a place where these kids can grow into phenomenal people. For her to receive this recruitment from Coach King has been really exciting for all of us. Amber King is just what these girls need when they leave home and go into a new environment -- she's the mom all parents pray to find when their kids go away to college, and there she is."
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