1960s - Women Start Competing

By the early 1960s many of the best women gymnasts in the United States were training at two YMCAs.  The Seattle YMCA program in Washington State with coach George Lewis was producing fine gymnasts.  Many of these girls were national champions or on Olympic teams.   And in McKinley YMCA, halfway across the country, Dick Mulvihill was also creating champions.

There is no surprise that the National Committee decided to include women in the National Championships by 1965.

Joyce Tanac Schroeder, the National Champion in both 1965 and 1966 had forgotten that she was the first women’s champion.  She remembers the championships being run like any other meet.  One thing that wasn’t usual.  This was the first Championship that had taken place on the West Coast of the United States.  Only four teams with women gymnasts entered.  Twelve gymnasts were in the all-around.  Twelve men’s teams participated that year, with 36 all-around competitors.  Numbers rebounded the next year when the Championships moved back across the country to Dayton, Ohio.

For Cleo Carver Schreifels, from the Seattle Y, the Dayton Nationals was her first major competition.  She remembers doing her floor exercise routine at 12:20 in the morning!  She was part of the first place Seattle team in ’66, ‘67’ ’68, and ’69.  She also won the all-around title in 1969.  Cleo placed 6th at the Olympic Trials for 1968. But wasn’t named on the team because she was young and for political reasons.
For seven straight years gymnasts from McKinley and Seattle were all-around champions at Y Nationals. Except for in 1967.  This year a gymnast from Chevy Chase Maryland was champion. It was her only time at Y Nationals. Her name was Margie Sims Weiss.  And what an unlikely champion she was.  In the warm-ups she broke her toe performing a leap.  But she held on to win the all-around.

Margie won the first US collegiate gymnastics scholarship to the University of Massachusetts.  She was also a NCAA National titlist.  If her last name seems familiar it is because fitness and an appreciation for sports runs in her family.  Her son is Michael Weiss, a two-time US Olympic figure skater.

1968 was a fabulous year for Y gymnasts.  Five were named to the US Olympic roster.  Linda Metheny, Joyce Tanac, Colleen Mulvihill, Carolyn Pingatore and Diane Bolin were all members.

1969 was the first year that Y Nationals was held over 2 days.  The number of gymnasts had been over 100 for several years.

The Decision to Include Women

Measure adopted by the National Gymnastics Committee in 1964.

“Due to the apparent interest in women’s gymnastics in many YMCAs and the fact that many of these “Y”s have women’s teams, it has been decided to begin holding the women’s events in our Championships beginning in Berkeley in 1965.  They will be the FIG events (Balance Beam, Uneven Bars, Floor Exercise, Side Horse Vault and the All-Around).  The events will be conducted according to the AAU rules of competition for women subject to YMCA rules of eligibility and related YMCA Gymnastic Committee statements of policy on these rules.  While the events will be held at the same time and place as the men’s event they will be a separate Championships.”

Bill Buffa’s (National Committee Chairman) personal opinion, as expressed to Dr. Harold T. Friermood, Secretary, Heath and Physical Education, National Council of Y.M.C.A.s.

“My personal opinion on the matter:  We had to start sometime to give it a try.  Our championships for men and boys has shown a gradual trend toward growth, during the past ten years or so, and I believe that the women’s competition will probably start from equally humble beginnings and show a growth trend in the years to come.  I haven’t much faith in statistics showing participation in the Championships by area; these statistics do not indicate interest in the sport.  Geographically we are a vast nation and it costs plenty of money to send competitors to a Championship when they must travel over 500 miles --- this is the main deterrent.  I feel that the interest is there and it is our job on the national committee level to build up the local “Y”s spirit of belonging to a national organization to a point where they’ll try real hard to send competitors to a Championship no matter how far."