Because basketball was the main reason that Wayland Baptist University came into her life, one might expect that Dr. Sylvia Nadler was being inducted into the WBU Harley Redin Athletics Hall of Honor as a result of her prowess on the basketball court. That’s not the case; her success was off the court and therefore she is being honored not only for her tremendous contributions to the success and promotion of the Flying Queens basketball program, but for her contributions to the entire WBU Athletics Department during much of the 1980s and beyond.
“Wayland influenced the direction of my whole life, both as a person and as a professional. To have Wayland affirm my life’s work with this honor is truly satisfying,” Dr. Nadler said of her selection into the Hall of Honor. “I initially chose Wayland as my college because I wanted to play for the Flying Queens. Thus, to be inducted into the Harley Redin Hall of Honor and be in the company of so many great athletes, great leaders, and great people is humbling and very special.”
(NOTE: Dr. Sylvia Nadler will be inducted into the WBU Athletics Hall of Honor – along with Brad Bass, Todd Jeffress, Kim Kayler Clemmons and Joe & Freda Provence – at 9 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 6 inside the Pete & Nelda Laney Center. Admission is free. Live streaming at www.wbuathletics.com/watch.)
Before she became what’s believed to be the first female in the country – at any level – to oversee both men’s and women’s intercollegiate athletic programs, Sylvia Nadler was a student at then Wayland Baptist College in the 1960s.
“My high school basketball coach (in Wellington, Mo.), Shirley Tye, played at Iowa Wesleyan. She told me if she had to make the decision over again, she would choose Wayland Baptist,” Nadler recalled. Wayland and the Flying Queens already were on Nadler’s radar because a “cousin of a cousin,” Lois Finley, played for the Flying Queens from 1964-68. “My uncle and aunt were always talking about the Queens and took me to see a game or two when the Queens played the Raytown Piperettes in Kansas City.”
After traveling from Missouri to visit Wayland’s campus, Nadler’s mind was made up. “After we got home, my dad was sitting in his chair, and he could tell just from my reaction at the visit that Wayland was my choice. Definitely it was women’s basketball that made my decision for me.”
It didn’t take long, though, for Nadler’s eyes to be opened as to what she was up against trying to earn a spot on the roster of the Flying Queens, who at that time had won six of their 10 AAU national championships. “Twenty-three or 24 people showed up to make three open spots on the Flying Queens. At that point I didn’t have an understanding of how competitive getting on that team was. I thought I was good. I started every (high school) game from freshman on, so I went down there thinking I was really going to do well. Holy cow! The caliber of players coming out of Texas and Oklahoma made me look pitiful!”
Nadler was upset at first about not being selected for the Flying Queens roster. “Not making that team was one of the first times I felt like I had failed, but Coach Redin must have thought I understood the game because he asked me if I wanted to coach the Bees the next year.” The Bees were the junior varsity team and boasted lots of talent as well. Nadler was a player for the Bees for one season then became co-coach, with Judy Gover, the next two years. Nadler stepped down from coaching the Queen Bees her senior year because she began student teaching and because of increased time devoted to being the second-ever female president of Wayland’s Student Government Association.
Nadler went on to graduate (BS, Physical Education) summa cum laude as WBU’s highest-ranking graduating senior in 1971. Later that same year Wayland hired her to teach in the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department, and she also continued to coach the Queen Bees, men’s and women’s tennis, and a variety of other sports entered in TAIAW competition. By then future Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp had arrived on campus as a student. She played for the Bees and later was asked by Coach Redin if she would like to help coach the Bees. “We coached together one year and even though I was the faculty member, it was totally clear she was the head coach,” Nadler said of Sharp.
After earning her master’s degree at West Texas A&M, Nadler was named HPER division chair at Wayland in 1978. Then, after earning her doctorate degree in education from East Texas State in 1980 (writing her dissertation on the history of women’s basketball at Wayland), she took on the added duties of Wayland’s director of athletics in 1983, a role she held for the next seven years.
During that time, Wayland athletics flourished. Despite offering just four competitive sports – basketball, cross country, and indoor & outdoor track & field – Wayland twice claimed the NAIA all-sports competition national championships. “Personally, those championships were very significant because when I was hired as AD in 1983, Wayland caught a lot of flak for hiring a woman. While many schools had females in charge of women’s sports programs, it was all but unheard of to have a woman in charge of men’s and women’s sports. Secondly, naysayers were sure that I would favor the Flying Queens and put men’s programs even further in the backseat. Thirdly, when I was hired, all three of Wayland’s head coaches resigned for different personal reasons. Within a very short period of time, I had to fill these positions. It was very gratifying that these three hires put together programs that took us to the top of the NAIA in back-to-back years. Also, to have the men’s programs reach the milestone first was particularly satisfying. Thank you, Coach Mark Adams and Coach John Creer!”
Nadler said one of the most exciting periods during her time at Wayland came in 1985 when the men’s basketball team – in just their second season under now Texas Tech coach Mark Adams, assisted by later head coach and WBU AD Rick Cooper – advanced to the NAIA title game. The Pioneers lost a heartbreaker, falling on a buzzer-beater in double-overtime. “To see some of our players on their knees, foreheads to the floor, in anguish over the loss was heartbreaking. Then to add insult to injury it was later discovered that Fort Hays State (Kan.) had some players who were ineligible, which really, really hurt. I think I’m still angry.”
Nadler also enjoyed attending NAIA National Indoor Track & Field meets. “I loved the environment and the opportunity to interact with the Wayland athletes as they often sat in the stands to watch their teammates when they weren’t competing in their own events. It was also wonderful for me that many of the NAIA national events were held in Kansas City. My hometown was about 40 miles from the sports arena, making it possible for my parents and other relatives to support ‘my’ teams.”
Nadler – who held many offices within the NAIA Athletic Directors Association including president – was named NAIA National Athletics Administrator of the Year for 1986-87, the first woman to be so honored. In 1990 she left Wayland and returned to her home state to serve as HPER department chair at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., until 1998. She also directed the then newly-created Leadership Studies Program, which among many other accomplishments raised $375,000 via a student-led capstone project to build one of the largest adventure-based challenge courses on any college campus in the U.S.
Working on equity has been a constant thread throughout Nadler’s career. “While at Wayland I tried to make sure that benefits provided by Wayland to the men’s and women’s teams were equitable and that the track & field teams’ and basketball teams’ benefits were equitable. This included scholarship aid, per diems, coaching staff, trainers, etc. The one significant unmatched perk the Queens had was the luxury, provided by the Hutchersons, of flying to their games.
“When I arrived at William Jewell in 1990, women’s sports programs were way behind the men’s program. Although I wasn’t the director of athletics, I took up the cause and worked with and through the dean of students and the athletics director to bring equity to the sports programs. My research and case-building resulted in a $500,000 infusion into the women’s sport programs to bring coaching staff and budgets in line with the men’s program.”
Since her retirement in 2004, Nadler, who continues to live in Liberty, has continued sharing her leadership development skills nationally, both as a volunteer and as a consultant. She also enjoys traveling, playing pickle ball, and serving as historian for the Flying Queens as a member of the Hutcherson Flying Queens Foundation Board. She played a key, behind-the-scenes role in helping recognize the Queens with their 2019 induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Nadler, who received the Distinguished Alumni Award from WBU in 1996 and delivered the school’s commencement address in 2002, called her selection to the WBU Athletics Hall of Honor “humbling. I have been in that Hall of Honor and seen the athletes and other people who are on that wall. There’s just some amazing folks in there, to be counted among those is a tremendous honor.”
Accomplishments of WBU teams during Dr. Sylvia Nadler’s tenure as director of athletics (1983-1990):
*National Champions, NAIA CoSIDA Men’ All-Sports Competition, 1984-85
*National Champions, NAIA CoSIDA Women’ All-Sports Competition, 1985-86
*National Championships in Track & Field: 7
*NAIA National Women’s Basketball Tournament appearances: 7 (finished 2nd in 1986 and 3rd in 1985)
*NAIA National Men’s Basketball Tournament appearances: 4 (finished 2nd in 1985)
*All-Americans in men’s track & field (167), women’s track & field (146), women’s basketball (27), men’s basketball (6)
*Academic All-America recognition: 10
NOTE: Winning the All-Sports Competition is comparable to winning what was later named the NAIA (NACDA) Director’s Cup and then the NAIA Learfield IMB College Directors’ Cup.