SYRACUSE — On June 23, 1972, the Education Amendments of 1972 were signed into law. The most notable part of the legislation was the 37 words of Title IX of the act, which read, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
While sports weren’t directly mentioned in the law, Title IX paved the way for what female sports is today. In Indiana, high school girls volleyball and gymnastics were immediately added as IHSAA sports in the 1972-73 season, while girls track, golf, swimming and diving, basketball, tennis, cross country, softball, and soccer all eventually followed suit over the next 25 years.
Now, with it being the 50th anniversary of Title IX, The Goshen News is proud to celebrate some of the best female sports achievements from its coverage area.
This story focuses on Wawasee’s Tracy Rinker, who still holds the IHSAA state record with 10 individual championships won in a gymnastics career.
Rinker began in the sport of gymnastics when she was 10 years old. Her parents would drive her from their Syracuse home to the YMCA in Elkhart, where she’d take lessons and start to fall in love with the sport.
It didn’t take long for Rinker to become skilled in gymnastics, either.
“Probably in junior high,” said Rinker of when she realized she was good at gymnastics. “I started competing and started placing and winning YMCA competitions. I just liked it and really enjoyed doing it.”
Rinker was nine years old when Title IX was passed. She didn’t understand the gravity of the law when it was passed, nor did she ever have second thoughts of being a female athlete while growing up.
“I never remember anyone telling me that I couldn’t do something because I was a girl until I went to college,” Rinker said. “That was the first time I ever had someone tell me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. The people I was around, the family I grew up in — I just didn’t hear that.”
Rinker’s freshman year, 1977, proved to be the most prolific in her high school career.
After a dominant regular season, Rinker qualified for the state meet in all four individual events: vault, uneven parallel bars, floor exercise and balance beam. She was the only individual from Wawasee to advance to state that season.
“I can remember going down to the state meet, and Marsha Carpenter was my coach,” Rinker said. “We went the night before because it was early morning. There must’ve been the Big Ten basketball tournament or something that weekend because outside of the hotel, there were all these people tailgating. And Marsha kept telling these people, ‘This girl is going to win the state meet today. There’s a state gymnastics meet and she’s going to win it.’
“And I remember being so embarrassed that she was saying that. They didn’t even know what was going on for us; they were focused on their own thing.”
In just the fifth year of the IHSAA-sponsored state tournament, Rinker swept the competition. She took first place in all four events, which gave her the individual all-around state championship as well. All four of Rinker’s performances set state records at the time.
For Rinker, though, it was just another day at the office.
“I had won the Indiana YMCA state meet several times, and to be honest, it was easier to win the high school state meet than it was the YMCA state meet,” Rinker admitted. “And so, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. … It seemed like they made it a much bigger deal of it than they should of in that point of time because it was harder to win the YMCA meet than it was this state meet. So, that’s what I remember as far as my freshman year.”
In 1978, Rinker only won a state title in uneven bars. She finished runner-up in the all-around competition as well.
“My sophomore year, that’s when we went down as a team to the state meet,” Rinker said. “That was pretty exciting because everyone’s with you and you’re having fun. I didn’t win that year; I got second. And at that point in time, second was losing. And so, in my mind, I lost.”
After collecting six state medals in two years, Rinker decided to not participate in the sport for Wawasee her junior year. Instead, she spent 1979 competing in YMCA events.
As her senior year drew closer, though, she knew she wanted to return to the high school meets.
“The YMCA is where I learned everything, so that’s why I went back to them (junior year),” Rinker said. “And then, in my senior year, I decided I wanted to do high school again because that’s where my friends were and it was fun.”
Rinker would cap off her final high school season in style, winning individual state championships in everything but the vault. It gave her 10 championships out of a possible 15 during the three years she competed at the state meet, which is still the most overall title of any gymnast in IHSAA history.
“I didn’t realize that I had won that many,” Rinker said. “Somebody asked me one time what I won each year — I couldn’t tell them. I know what I failed in; I know where my shortcomings were.”
After high school, Rinker competed collegiately at Ohio State University. She would eventually return to the Syracuse area, becoming a teacher and gymnastics coach at Wawasee for 10 years before starting a family.
This past winter, the IHSAA invited its past champions to the state meet in honor of it being the 50th edition of the championships. Rinker was the oldest individual state champion that was able to attend, which helped her put her accomplishments into even more perspective.
“It was kind of eye-opening to me because I guess I never really thought too much about it,” Rinker said. “I was the oldest person that made it there, but it was just hard to think that it was that long ago and that there weren’t that many in front of me. As an athlete, you don’t really realize that. You just do your thing.”