I’m Anita Cowan Lawson and I was a Flying Queen from 1971-73. I was born in a small town, Bronte, Texas, and reared in the small town, Wingate, Texas in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. This part of Texas was drier and windier than most places in the state. For many of us, there was not much to do but play basketball and pick or hoe cotton. Playing basketball with kids of all ages and both genders on a dirt court with a hoop on a pole was common. If there were funds in the area, there might be a gym with a basketball court. For most of the girls in this scenario, a glimmer of something better was born when we would go to watch or even hear of an exhibition game of the Hutcherson Flying Queens from Wayland Baptist College in Plainview Texas. I’ve learned from other Queens that they had similar experiences growing up.
I remember first hearing of Wayland, a college that would actually pay for part of your education if you could make the women’s basketball team, when I was in the fourth grade. From that moment on, I set a goal of being on that team. After years of playing basketball in many small school gyms across west Texas, I was old enough to go to college and was richly blessed to be able to wear the uniform of a Hutcherson Flying Queen and play for Coach Harley Redin.
Coach Redin was a huge influence on me. He taught me a lot about basketball. He never raised his voice in anger or scolding. He encouraged with words of expectation and disciplined with few, if any, words of condemnation. His softer voice received more attention because we knew we needed to listen carefully and comply quickly. He unfailingly showed each of us respect and it was evident that he genuinely cared for us as individuals and not just as his basketball players. In return, our behaviors were based on respect and genuine care to not disappoint him. This kind of coaching was also modeled by my father and by my high school coach.
I learned about the traditions and the heritage of the Queens from team members. My freshman year, I grew to love and respect the seniors on our team. Cherri Rapp and Susan Britton were three-time All Americans and they were phenomenal. They modeled, for us younger players, poise, both on and off the court. They taught us to respect and honor the fact that we had been given the chance to achieve a place on the Flying Queens’ roster. I was/am proud to be a Flying Queen and a part of the teams’ amazing history.
As for my own heritage, my parents were young adults when Pearl Harbor was bombed in December of 1941. Therefore, much of their early married life was in an atmosphere of our country being at war across the whole world. After returning from the war, my dad took advantage of the G.I. Bill. He did 4 years of college in three and a half years and in 1952 was hired to teach and coach all of the sports for both males and females in a small school in Wingate, Texas. When my family arrived, the only basketball court was a dirt one that the girls and boys who played basketball maintained by sweeping it before practices and games. Part of my dad’s job was to upgrade the sports programs of the school and he was fortunate to be able to use money generated by oil and gas production in the area to fund programs and facility upgrades. Over the 13 years my dad was employed by the Wingate district, he and supportive school board members were able to build a brick, domed gym with a wood floor and glass backboards and provide a rounded athletic experience for boy and girl athletes. After finishing her degree, my mom was also hired as a teacher in the district.
Towards the end of my eighth-grade year, my mom and dad started talking to me about moving our family to a different town so that I could play basketball on a more competitive level. I wanted to play basketball, but I was not old enough to understand what a move entailed or what all would happen. Nevertheless, playing on a “more competitive level” sounded like heaven to me. Eventually they made the decision that we would move to a bigger city where they could get better paying jobs and I would go to school in a smaller district nearby to play basketball. The town they picked was Abilene, and I transferred out to Wylie ISD and played for four years. In those pre-Title IX days, the bigger districts, like Abilene, had few, if any, girls’ sports. It was about the time I got out of college, that the larger districts began competing, setting the stage for women to coach girls’ sports at larger schools.
My first impressions of Wayland were that the campus was big, the gym was large and palatial, and my dorm was quite old. My impressions were filtered through four years of going to school in Wylie and through the haze of my dream coming true. I was excited and eager to get the whole experience started. I was homesick for the first couple of months, but I reveled in my new freedom of only going to class and basketball practice and then having all that other time to do what I wanted instead of cleaning the house, washing dishes, cooking and helping with laundry as I had to do when living at home.
Other campus memories will probably resonate with other Flying Queens. It seems like the wind was always blowing. It was an ever-present controlling factor for walking across campus and entering or exiting buildings. Staying on campus during the break between fall and spring semester was special. Primarily only winter sports athletes and international students stayed on campus. Our academic session would be a three-credit hour class, which we would attend every morning for about a month. Eating in the cafeteria during these mini sessions was more like eating with family. Over these meals we learned to know each other much better.
One of my most embarrassing moments as a Queen involved my socks. I was sitting on the floor of the dressing room putting on my shoes. The seniors told us how to wear our socks so that all of us were dressed the same. I foolishly voiced my thoughts aloud about how we wore socks in high school. What a colossal mistake. Susan Britton put me in my place by saying something like, “This is college. We are the Flying Queens. This is not high school.” The wording here might not be exactly the same, but it is close enough. I was stunned into silence which was a very good thing. Susan was nothing but a great leader. I admire her still to this day for all she did to help me be a true member of the Flying Queens. Susan and Cherri treated me as an equal on the playing floor even though I was far from their level of ability. They had already gained valuable experience and I was a fledgling. However, I was growing up. I was entering into an entirely different level of basketball and in life. Susan, Cherri and the other upperclassmen were mentoring me, and I was just so totally thankful to be a part of any of it. I had somehow been given a spot on the Flying Queens team. This was a dream come true. I felt totally blessed.
While I was at Wayland, we were given opportunities few women from other teams ever experienced during that era in women’s basketball history. We flew in planes to all of our games. We received athletic scholarships. We played in international games. We had sponsors who, out of the goodness of their hearts and a determination that females have equal opportunity, provided travel uniforms and meals at away games.
My freshman year, we went to Mexico to play their National Women’s Basketball Team. We flew in three separate small planes from Plainview to Durango, Mexico. We played two games there before large crowds in a gym smaller than the gym at Wayland. The international basketball rules were enlightening—especially to those of us who were very new to the team.
The games also featured a bit of pageantry. Before the game, our team lined up in the middle of the court from sideline to sideline on one end. The National Team from Mexico lined up opposite us on the opposite end of the court. As music played, all members of the Flying Queens walked forward to midcourt as our opponents also walked forward, each basketball player carried a gift to exchange with an opponent. This ceremony was repeated before the next night’s game. During my sophomore year, Wayland hosted the National Women’s Basketball Team from China. Again, international basketball rules were used. And, again, gifts were exchanged at mid court before each game. In both instances, the games were more physical than our usual games and the opponents were generally several years older than us, too.
My experiences at Wayland contributed to my maturation both emotionally and intellectually. I had many good models from whom I learned proper behavior and important goal setting skills. Overall, I had extremely good professors who gave me a solid educational foundation. I would give a particular “shout out” to Dr. Hoyt Bowers. He was an excellent professor who became a mentor for me and helped me love science. Science became my academic focus and I have multiple degrees in that field. I ended up being a secondary science teacher and have never regretted that career choice. In addition, I took extra classes in college to get a teaching license in Physical Education and Health because I wanted to coach basketball if possible. While I didn’t finish my undergraduate degree at Wayland, I am very thankful for the experiences I had there and have often wondered how my life might have been different if Coach Redin had retired in 1975 instead of 1973.
My first teaching/coaching job was at Abilene Cooper High School. Abilene was just starting girls’ basketball programs in the two large high schools. The principal, who had known me for years because he officiated some of my games when I played in high school, contacted me. I got the job and became the first girls’ basketball coach at Cooper High. After coaching a short time in Abilene, my husband and I moved to, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, his hometown. There, I coached junior high basketball and club teams for a time and taught secondary science.
When we started our family, I stayed home to be with our baby boy and then his sister. My highlights will always be these children. They are now grown, and each has had many successes in academics and athletics. Also, they each married exceptional individuals and all four of these adult children have college degrees and are successful, productive adults. My daughter and husband have two children and my son and wife have three children. The grandchildren are the lights of my life.
After ten years of being a stay-at-home mom, I started teaching again. While working, I took graduate classes. I completed a master’s degree in Environmental Science. Just as soon as I finished my first the master’s degree, I started another master’s degree in educational administration. This led to a totally new direction in my life. In 1997 I accepted a job in Fayetteville, Arkansas as an administrator. I then completed two additional graduate degrees: an Educational Specialist degree and a Doctorate in Educational Administration. I ended my career at Fayetteville, Arkansas as a Fayetteville Public School building administrator.
I am now retired. Early in 2018, I acquired a new puppy. I named him Charlie and he’s a great companion. He really helped fill the void in my heart left when my parents passed away within 11 months of each other—both with vascular dementia. In addition to loving Charlie, I love my vegetable gardens and eat the produce they make. I like to make jewelry from beads I purchase all over everywhere (even make some from paper). I also have enjoyed travel to Ecuador and Canada on mission trips.
In conclusion, I know the good Lord gave me the physical attributes that were the raw materials for the sport of basketball. And, I have always believed the Lord had a purpose for me that lasted well beyond my actual playing of the sport. I am still humbled as I look back over the opportunities I had in women’s basketball. Being a part of something so rich in experiences and opportunities changed my life and the lives of so many young women who played on the Flying Queens at Wayland. Basketball helped me learn to set goals, develop skills, and hone attitudes. It tested my patience and tenacity and through it I made many friends. The whole program worked towards making us confident, poised, and believing we could take on the challenges set before us as the next generation of leaders. The basis for all of this was the genuine love Mr. and Mrs. Claude Hutcherson and Coach Redin had for each of us, and we for them. Their impact has been monumental for many Flying Queens. It is a sisterhood that holds high the individual characteristics of working hard, being ethical and honest, and “remembering where we came from.” We each owe a great deal to the Flying Queen Basketball Program of Wayland Baptist University. I know I do.