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A young Valparaiso girl's smiling face and victory pose have a rich Hoosier legacy written all over them.

The individual story of Rianne Murphy, 13, is compelling in its own right.

The seventh-grader at St. Paul Catholic School in Valparaiso pinned down two state wrestling championship titles Sunday at the Indiana State Wrestling Association Folkstyle State Finals.

She wrestled in 11 tournament matches that day, in the end capturing both the girls and boys state titles for her 87-pound weight class.

"I simply enjoy wrestling. It doesn't matter who's on the mat with me," Rianne told The Times earlier this week.

Her beaming smile with a championship trophy in the foreground speaks volumes.

But it becomes even more meaningful when considering the death Thursday of a former Hoosier lawmaker who pioneered federal laws that serve as the prologue for stories like Rianne's.

On the same day we reported Rianne's incredible story in our print editions, word came that former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Ind., died at his home at age 91.

Bayh was the leading proponent of the landmark 1972 law prohibiting gender discrimination in education — known as Title IX for its section in the Higher Education Act. The law's passage came at a time when women earned fewer than 10 percent of all medical and law degrees and fewer than 300,000 high school girls — one in 27 — played sports.

Bayh argued the law gave girls and young women a better shot at higher-paying jobs and equal footing on fields and in arenas then socially dominated by men.

Now, The Associated Press reports women make up more than half of those receiving bachelor's and graduate degrees, and more than 3 million high school girls — one in two — play sports.

Tennis great Billie Jean King, who worked with Bayh on women's rights issues, called Bayh "one of the most important Americans of the 20th century" upon his death Thursday.

"You simply cannot look at the evolution of equality in our nation without acknowledging the contributions and the commitment Sen. Bayh made to securing equal rights and opportunities for every American," she said.

We have no doubt Bayh's face would form his signature grin viewing the accomplishments of Rianne this past Sunday, besting both boys and girls wrestlers on a mat of competition laid by his groundbreaking work.

Meanwhile, the parallel timing of his death, the legacy Bayh leaves behind and Rianne's weekend victory can embolden all champions of equal playing fields.

This article originally ran on nwitimes.com.

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