NCAA gymnastics another hit show for Fort Worth – and a kids’ reading program, too

The University of Oklahoma gymnastics team celebrates another national championship – its sixth since 2014 – at Dickies Arena this past weekend. The event drew around 17,000 fans and brought more than $4 million into the community. (Photo by Brooks Burris)

Oklahoma and Trinity Thomas weren’t the only repeat success stories as NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships returned to Fort Worth and Dickies Arena.

The event itself was once again a big hit with more than 17,000 fans attending the competition last Thursday (April 13) and Saturday (April 15). This included one of the biggest crowds in recent NCAA history for the championship session on Saturday, according to the Fort Worth Sports Commission (FWSC).

“This championship is special and it has grown immensely since 2019 when we first hosted,” said FWSC Executive Director Jason Sands. “Our Fort Worth team – that’s inclusive of Dickies Arena, Texas Women’s University, our hospitality community, the Fort Worth ISD, our city and community leaders and so many more – have worked tirelessly to enhance the championship every year to make sure those student-athletes get the championship experience they deserve.

“We are proud of the success this championship has had in Fort Worth.”

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Fort Worth is scheduled to host the event through 2026. Sands said the city will be bidding this fall to extend the relationship through 2030.

The first championship was at the Fort Worth Convention Center. Then, after it was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it moved to Dickies Arena.

Fans from all over the country flew in to Fort Worth for the competition and Sands said anticipation of the direct spend was north of $4 million. This included more than 7,500 rooms booked at area hotels.

What’s more, the national spotlight was on Fort Worth once again with the semifinals televised on ESPN2 and the championship session televised on ABC.

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“These sporting events give us an amazing opportunity to tell the Fort Worth story to a national audience and with each event we host like this, we elevate our profile as a world-class city,” Sands said.

Those watching – in person or on TV – were treated to another exciting championship. The Oklahoma Sooners edged Florida for their sixth title since 2014, with Utah placing third.

They also saw a record-tying gutsy performance from Florida fifth-year senior Trinity Thomas. Despite competing in only two events because of a leg injury – it had been questionable whether she’d compete at all – the 2022 NCAA champion recorded a perfect 10 in the vault. That tied UCLA’s Jamie Dantzscher and Kentucky’s Jenny Hansen for the most 10s in NCAA history at 28.

Utah’s Maile O’Keefe won the individual all-around championship, which included Saturday’s highest scores – perfect 10s on beam and vault.

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Another winner at the event was the Readers Become Leaders program, which was created to encourage children to explore their talents. The program lays a foundation for future educational goals, such as attending college.

In 2019, the Fort Worth Sports Commission teamed with the program and the Fort Worth ISD to implement the program in grades kindergarten through fifth as part of the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships. In that first year, more than 17,000 FWISD students participated in the program, reading a total of more than 6.7 million minutes, making it the single biggest community outreach program in NCAA history.

And this year, in its fourth time around, the program had its best performance yet. Seventy eight schools participated, representing 38,000 students – more than double last year – and through 10 weeks they amassed more than 71 million minutes of reading. This, once again, broke the NCAA record for a single school district.

“The Readers Become Leaders program has exceeded our wildest expectations, and that’s due in large part to the fantastic team at the Fort Worth ISD that has gone all in on the program,” Sands said. “For every high profile sporting event the Fort Worth Sports Commission brings to the community we try to leverage the power of sport to benefit our local community, and this program is a shining example of how these signature events can leave a lasting legacy in our community.”

Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker praised the FWSC and the city for all that is being done to put Fort Worth in the national spotlight.

“Fort Worth is continuing to gain national recognition as a top place to host world-class sporting events, and our Fort Worth Sports Commission is propelling the sports tourism industry in this city,” Parker said. “NCAA Gymnastics is a fantastic example of this effort.”

And while Dickies and Fort Worth have been grabbing a lot of the national sports spotlight in recent years, Sands said things are just getting started.

“Dickies Arena has been such a game changer for our community, and while we’ve hosted some unbelievable events in a short amount of time, I can tell you that more is on the horizon,” he said. “These governing bodies talk, and they are not only impressed with Dickies Arena and all of its world-class amenities, they are also impressed with our city and the way we collectively rally around these events to create an unforgettable experience for everyone involved.”

“Once we get them here,” Sands added, “our goal is to keep them coming back and we have built a great team here in Fort Worth with all of our partners to make sure that happens.”