Harlem’s Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation’s Phoenix Britt Earns Scholarship To Iona University

December 14, 2023

Phoenix Britt, who for nine years has honed her athletic talents at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation (WHGF), has recently signed an academic-athletic scholarship to attend Iona University.

Britt, a 17-year-old senior at Albertus Magnus High School in Rockland County, will be a member of Iona’s Acrobatic and Tumbling Team. The school added the program in 2022.

“At Iona, I hope to have a successful Acro Tumbling career while maintaining my grades,” said Britt, who also was coached by Roger Walker, a former World Champion who began training top WHGF athletes at the CAVU Trampoline & Tumbling in New Jersey due to the COVID shutdown of the WHGF facility in Harlem. “I also hope to take advantage of the study abroad program so that I can experience different cultures and languages.

“Coach Roger was the one who introduced Acro Tumbling to me. He told my mom about schools all over the country competing in this fairly new sport and thought I could excel. My mom and I started to give the idea of the sport more thought and after deciding that I wanted to do Acro Tumbling in college, I started to look only at schools that had the sport.

“After attending clinics and open houses, I felt that Iona’s team was the best fit for me.”

Britt excels in trampoline and double-mini categories and was the top performer two years in a row in trampoline at the Elite Challenge in Texas. During her upcoming college career, Britt plans to major in both Accounting and Economics.

Click HERE to see Britt perform as a WHGF gymnast.

“Phoenix came to the WHGF through Camp Dreamers a community sports program in Washington Heights run by Dave Crenshaw,” said Wendy Hilliard, Founder and CEO of WHGF. “We would do gymnastics for them every summer, and Phoenix wanted to join our team. It is an excellent story of how access to sports can make a difference in a young person’s life. I am sure Phoenix will do well at Iona; the goal of what we do for young people is to teach them a good work ethic and how to keep going when it gets tough – so she has what it takes to succeed in school.”

Britt credits participating in many WHGF fundraisers and competitions, where she gained valuable experience and confidence to perform in front of spectators. She also attributes outstanding coaching at WHGF from Hall of Famer Wendy Hilliard and trampoline and tumbling coaches, Dennis Rivera Lopez, Oliver De La Rosa, and Dean Parris.

“Some of my favorite memories were the fundraisers where we would perform,” Britt recollected. “We would get to sit down and eat a fancy dinner. I enjoyed the nerves I got from waiting to go out in front of a bunch of people who would wait patiently to watch the team perform.

“Another favorite memory I had was the first real meet in Florida.  Something about the traveling, training sessions, and how close I got to my teammates and coach motivated me to work harder.

“Through the years, Ms. Wendy has taught me that consistency is key. I will be forever grateful for Coach Dennis, who had abundant patience. He was always studying new techniques and drills for us to do so that we could perform to the best of our ability.”

Another key factor for Britt to attend Iona is that its campus is nearby in New Rochelle, NY.

“My mom has been to every single performance and competition,” Britt said, “so I’m used to seeing her in the crowd. I’m thankful that my mom and dad can still come and support me from the stands.”

This marks the second WHGF gymnast in two years to sign an athletic scholarship.

WHGF and University Heights High School alumni Zenell Mangal entered her freshman year this fall as a member of the Fisk University women’s artistic gymnastics team.  Last winter, Fisk University in Nashville made national headlines when it became the first Historically Black College & University (HBCU) institution to introduce a women’s NCAA Division I artistic gymnastics program.

Hilliard founded WHGF, which started in Harlem in 1996 and expanded to her hometown in Detroit in 2016. Since its inception, WHGF has provided FREE and low-cost gymnastics to underserved communities serving 25,000 urban youth. The two locations comprise over 25 instructors and staff members. WHGF elite athletes have won four national championships, competed in two world championships, and been a member of six USA Gymnastics National Teams.

Wendy Whilliard & WHGF

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Wendy started gymnastics at age 12. She trained through the Detroit Recreation Department with coaches from the former Soviet Union. She was the first Black athlete to represent the U.S. in international competition in rhythmic gymnastics and competed in three World Championships. In 2008, she was inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame. She was President of the Women’s Sports Foundation and coached 1996 Olympian Aliane Baquerot Wilson. Following her competitive and award-winning experience as a world-class athlete and coach, Wendy recognized the lack of gymnastic opportunities among urban youth, which inspired her to launch the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation.

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The WHGF is a pioneering, black-led organization, trailblazing the path for international gymnastic champions. As a nonprofit, its unparalleled legacy lies in offering support and opportunities to youth through gymnastics. Often likened to an “HBCU” for gymnastics, it distinguishes itself through the diversity and excellence of its staff. Moreover, it’s remarkable for introducing thousands of underserved youth to gymnastics, enabling some to achieve incredible heights in a sport typically not located in urban centers.

The Foundation serves urban youth between the ages of 3 to 17. At WHGF, young gymnasts learn about time management, responsibility, teamwork, leadership, and sustainable health habits. Last year, WHGF in New York City celebrated its 25th anniversary.

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