Sarah and David were celebrating their 10th anniversary
of coaching the Crimson Tide in 1988. Their success had
been nothing short of amazing, with five consecutive top-6
finishes including a high of third in 1986. Alabama was a
strong team, with a solid foundation built on its coaches and
the type of athletes they chose to bring into the program.
The questions began brewing in the Patterson's minds
though - could their philosophy of developing the whole
person produce championships? Would they be able to do
things the way they wanted and still climb the final rung and
produce a championship? The questions were answered
emphatically in 1988.
Alabama started the year 10-strong. It was a young
squad, with two seniors, one junior, four sophomores and
three freshmen. The Pattersons added to the Tide's arsenal
in January, when Kim Masters joined the Tide. Masters had
planned to delay college for a year to train for the Seoul
Olympics. After finishing ninth at the USA Gymnastics
Championships the summer before, her aspirations for the
Olympic rings seemed within her grasp. Striving for that goal
lost its appeal though and after much thought, she opted for
college and the Tide. With its roster set, the season began.
Alabama reeled off a trio of wins to get things going.
Then something strange happened - Alabama tied LSU.
With fractions of points being added up over the course of
24 individual performances, ties are rare in collegiate gymnastics.
Then, at the next meet, Alabama did it again; tying
Georgia at the UA hosted Red and White Classic and beating
In any other season, that would have been what the
year would be known by, the year of two ties. This squad,
though, was destined for far greater things.
Alabama then set the tone for the postseason by winning
its first ever Southeastern Conference Championship with a
190.15. It was only the second time in school history that it
had scored in the 190s. The Tide outpointed second-place
Georgia by .95.
The regionals were next for the Tide and a good performance
would be necessary to advance to the NCAA
Championships. Instead of a good performance, Alabama
produced a school and NCAA-best mark of 191.75. The Tide
posted the meet's top score, both individually and as a
team, on all four events. Masters won the all-around title followed
by Marie Robbins in second and Tina Rinker in fourth.
"I didn't think it was going to be possible to exceed what
we did at the Southeastern Conference Championship, but
they certainly did," Sarah Patterson said. "They came back
and did a better job."
Nationals were in Salt Lake City, Utah, home of fivetime
NCAA Champion Utah, the No. 2 seed. Among others,
Alabama would face defending NCAA Champs Georgia, No.
3 seeded LSU and No. 4 seeded Florida. Both the competition
and the floor were familiar. The position, being the No. 1
seed, was not.
"I don't think there's extra pressure on us being the No. 1
seed," Sarah said. "We just achieved so many things - winning
the SEC, the record in the regionals and the No. 1 seed
- that we're too proud of what we've already accomplished
to feel pressure."
If Alabama disagreed with their coach, it did not show.
Those watching from the stands and those on press row
observed a Crimson Tide team that was calm and loose
going into the championships, having fun, being playful and
displaying an indomitable team spirit.
Alabama scored an NCAA Championship record on the
way to its first national championship, shattering the mark
previously held by Utah, (188.35), with a 190.05. The Tide's
highest all-around finish was ninth-place, highlighting the
team effort it took to win the championship.
Consistency, along with confidence and enthusiasm were
the keys for the Crimson Tide. The Pattersons' crew hit 23 of
24 routines, including a six-for-six balance beam rotation.
"It was the beam - that's where we won it," Sarah said.
"That was our best beam score of the year."
And if the beam was the event that led Alabama to the
title, its seniors were the class pointing the way.
"This national championship is for our two seniors - Alli
Beldon and Kathy Bilodeau. They hit all three events tonight.
They were models for us all year. We just learned from their
consistency which has been our forte all season."
Four Alabama gymnasts earned seven All-American
honors. Sarah Patterson was named NCAA Coach of the
Year, but most importantly, Alabama had its first NCAA
"It's so unbelievable," Robbins said. "We had so much
fun. That's when we are at our best."
Sophomore Cheri Way said the seeds of the championship
were sown long before the trip to Utah.
"I realized we could win the national title after one long
and tiresome Tuesday practice when we decided to go out
and do it for us," Way said. "When I realized we had won...
my whole body went numb."
The good times were far from over.
"The best part about winning the championship was
coming back home to Alabama," Blumberg said, a sentiment
echoed by all her teammates at one point or another during
that magic year.
On April 30, 1988, the State of Alabama declared
"Alabama Gymnasts' Day." There was a parade and a ceremony
at the base of Denny Chimes. The next fall, the gymnasts
received their championship rings at half time of the
Vanderbilt football game.