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Baxter’s racquetball career lands her in MC Sports HOF

Sentinel photo by WILLIAM WHISLER
Cindy Baxter speaks during the 2021 Mifflin County Sports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Sunday evening at Birch Hill.

BURNHAM — Throughout her time at Penn Highlands High School and Lock Haven University, Cindy Baxter was a standout athlete who participated in basketball and softball.

Baxter continued her softball playing career with the Bald Eagles, before discovering the sport of racquetball at 21 years old. Her talent was remarkable and Baxter quickly became one of the best players in the country and eventually went on to a long and distinguished career that included an astounding 16 national championships and three consecutive gold medals at the International Racquetball Federation World Games.

Her ability to advocate for the sport across the country and her talent made her a legend locally, earning her a spot in the inaugural class of the Mifflin County Sports Hall of Fame.

“I want to thank everyone who contributed to my success,” Baxter said. “Thank you to the Hall of Fame and the members for recognizing my achievements, not only for myself as one of the first class of inductees, but for everyone who is here. I’m sure that this will carry over for many years to come.”

Baxter got involved in the sport at Lock Haven when she took classes in the sport in college.

“I had racquetball class and there was one course at the university,” Baxter said. “It was kind of cool back in ’75. I liked it. It’s not like tennis where if you miss a shot you have to chase it down for five minutes and dig it out of the leaves. It was a quick sport, balls travel fast and I liked that sport. I competed in basketball and softball throughout high school and in college I played softball.

“I always was in sports and coming back from college I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. In team sports it’s about you and your teammates. In individual sports, it’s about you,” Baxter added. “In individual sports, if you do lousy, you aren’t going to win. So the time, that commitment and dedication was all about you and yourself and you practiced hard and there’s your result.”

Baxter mentioned playing the sport against her practice partners, and how she grew in the sport playing against men.

“I didn’t get to play much against other women,” Baxter said of her training. “I don’t know if that was any indication of the caliber of my play or the intensity that I had in competitiveness, but I played the guys. I started beating the guys and it hurts a little bit. It hurts their ego.”

Baxter credited Harold “Junior” Powell with teaching her mental toughness in her training.

“He taught me the mental toughness,” Baxter said. “I always remembered that he never had good stroke mechanics, and neither did I. I was self-taught. I didn’t take a formal coaching class at all and that was back in the day. Junior would also say to put the ball where your opponent came from, and it worked. Every time he could hit little dink shots and it drives you crazy. That’s the mental toughness that he taught.”

Baxter also thanked Jeff Miller and Bernie Howard for their support.

“Bernie Howard pretty much introduced me to and convinced me to play in the first Nittany Lion Open over in State College in 1976-77. I played a girl and I got beat — really got beat. I didn’t give up. I went home, practiced hard and got better and one thing led to another. Then it was national tournaments and getting on the US team. When I got to a part where I could do no wrong and I was winning a lot — you really don’t realize that you’re doing that during the time. It’s not until afterwards when you step back and you’re like ‘wow I really did that.'”

Baxter’s playing career allowed her to play in six different countries and she served as a main ambassador for the sport along with Team USA.

“I’m very thankful for that part too,” Baxter said. “To me, all the victories and all the wins, all the plaques, all the medals — yeah that’s OK. But along with that it gave me opportunities in my travels again to help promote the sport to other countries and I can say I was there when the sport was just becoming popular in world competition. In many instances I was selected as a team captain and that really, really touches me to this day. I got the privilege to carry the United States flag in opening and closing ceremonies. That’s priceless.”

Baxter was also honored in her career by the United States Olympic Committee as the Sports Woman of the Year in 1985 and 1986.

“When I was there, I was in the company with Greg Davis, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, David Robinson and Carl Lewis,” Baxter said. “That was a big wow moment there. All those experiences with my racquetball career and my success in racquetball allowed me to go to foreign countries, meet new people and friends. It’s been a journey.”

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