Alabama Crimson Tide Gymnastics: Four Decades of Championships

Sarah Patterson has built an amazing following for Alabama Gymnastics

By Hunter Ford

The story of Alabama gymnastics sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie.

In 1974, the first gymnastics team was formed. The team competed for the first time in 1975. In 1978, with the team yet to have a winning season, legendary Alabama football coach and athletics director Paul “Bear” Bryant reached out to a 22-year-old Sarah Patterson, fresh out of Slippery Rock State College. It was a last gasp move by Bryant, who had plans to drop the sport if the young coach couldn’t pull it out of the dumps.

She was the last coach to be hired by Bryant.

Young Sarah’s first move was to hire a member of the men’s diving team as an assistant coach. David and Sarah Patterson would marry in the early 1980s and have been a team in and out of the gym ever since.

It would be hard to write a better script. And the success of the Tide gymnastic program almost seems unrealistic when you think of it. Alabama gymnastics, with Patterson at the helm, has won six national championships (the same number Bryant claimed in football) and have won them over four decades: 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. She has coached seven SEC championship teams and 27 NCAA Regional Title winners. In the past five years, 15 Alabama gymnasts have won All-American honors and two have won individual national championships.

The team has a bigger following than the men’s basketball team. In the past 10 years, the Tide gymnastic meets have drawn an average of more than 10,000 fans per contest. All five of 2013’s home meets drew more than 11,000 fans.

Gymnastics at other SEC schools has become popular and highly competitive. Patterson prepared this year’s Tide gymnasts for a meet with LSU by pumping in the LSU fight song at practices and having teammates mock heckle each other, in order to prepare for a hostile Cajun crowd. The meet drew over 8,000 fans. And LSU won.

I have been aware of Sarah Patterson and the gymnastics team. Patterson is a regular guest on pre-game Alabama football broadcasts. But I wasn’t aware of the magnitude of her success until I did a little research. I’ll keep a closer watch this year.

Recently, the Board of Trustees approved the building of the Sarah Patterson Champions Plaza in front of Coleman Coliseum.

I wish some of the Patterson magic could rub off on the basketball teams. Both the men’s and women’s Alabama teams are below .500 as March Madness approaches.

I’d like to see all Alabama’s athletic teams succeed on a high level, as several did in 2012. The football team, the women’s golf team, the gymnastic team, and the softball team, featuring one of Patterson’s daughters, all won national titles that year. ROLL TIDE!