Khoi Alexander Young likes a challenge.
The 19-year-old Prince George’s County native from Bowie chose gymnastics not only for its competitive nature and grueling practices but also because not many African-American boys participate in the sport.
Gymnastics led to another difficult test: admittance into Stanford University in California, which according to Best Colleges ranks as the second-hardest college to get in nationwide with a 3.9% acceptance rate.
Young will complete his freshman year in June at the private institution in Northern California where he plans to major in management science and engineering. The major requires taking computer science courses in which he has no interest.
“But I will now. I always look for the most difficult thing that I could achieve,” Young said in an interview April 1. “It keeps me very focused.”
He admits adjusting to college life more than 3,000 miles away from home hasn’t been easy but he talks with his parents once a week, usually on Sundays when he doesn’t have practice.
He’s already achieved exemplary accomplishments on Stanford’s men’s gymnastics and U.S. national teams that include:
- Two-time national Rookie of the Week in February.
- Mountain Pacific Sports Federation [MPSF] gymnast of the week in February.
- Second and third place finishes in international competition in March in Stuttgart, Germany.
Young recently contributed to Stanford’s victory in the school’s first MPSF men’s championship since 2011. Young recorded a top score of 14.600 to win the pommel horse event.
He will compete in the NCAA championships April 15 and 16 in Norman, Oklahoma, where Stanford seeks a third straight NCAA title.
But there’s still one element missing during most competitions: Black male gymnasts.
A December NCAA report reveals that out of 307 men gymnasts enrolled in predominantly white institutions [PWI] last year, Blacks accounted for 18, or 6%. Approximately 94 identified themselves as “other” and 195 white male gymnasts participated in the sport.
In comparison from 2020, approximately 23 Black male gymnasts participated in the sport at PWIs. Another 109 identified as “other” and 188 as white male gymnasts.
The sport had only one Black male head coach and two Black male assistant coaches last year.
Fisk University in Nashville announced in February it will launch a women’s gymnastics program, making it the first historically Black college and university to do so.
“Most [of the Blacks] I see and know are from the DMV area,” Young said. “I’m the only one on my team and about one or two I may see throughout the NCAA competition.”
He says that’s motivation to inspire other Black youth to the sport like his former teammates with Sportsplex Gymnastics at the Wayne K. Curry Sports and Learning Complex in Landover.
“I feel like I could be a catalyst for younger gymnasts to be a part of this sport,” he said. “I believe I have already inspired the guys back home to achieve the same thing.”
Although Young sacrificed social events with friends at Bowie High School to practice 20 hours per week, gymnastics allowed him to travel. In 2019, he won a spot with three U.S. men gymnasts to participate in Hungary in the world junior championship.
Sportsplex Gymnastics men’s head coach Robert Lundy admired Young’s work ethic and desire when Lundy became coach at least 10 years ago.
“His personality is great. He is a hard worker. Being able to focus is the most challenging thing in this sport,” Lundy said. “His ability to come up with a plan, stick with a plan and make that plan come true is a testament to his abilities. He had that determination early on.”
Lundy, who’s Black and coached gymnastics for about 35 years, said a few of the detriments in seeing more young Black male gymnasts are cultural with many youths choosing basketball, football and track and field. There are also gender stereotypes, he said, which allude to gymnastics being strictly for girls and women.
Further, the costs to participate aren’t cheap. Registration fees to enroll youth for at least eight weeks of gymnastics classes this spring through the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation start at $160.
The price doesn’t include leotards, workout gear and any necessary training equipment. If participating on a team, the cost could be higher.
“I repeat several times to parents, ‘This is going to be expensive,’” Lundy said. “My job here is to help [athletes] go as far as they want to go. Our facility has all the training for athletes to excel. You can succeed in and from this sport.”