I’m Belva Ramsey Stokes and I was a Flying Queen in 1956-57 and 1957-58. My story is much like others that you’ve read from my era where a small-town girl gets to experience the pinnacle of women’s basketball and get a college education.
I was reared in Morton, TX, a small town 90 miles from Plainview. I had four sisters and one brother. We lived in town and had a small farm outside town. I did things that had to be done on a farm—milked cows morning and night, hoed/chopped cotton, pulled cotton, fixed fences, etc. I grew up in a Christian home and went to church very regularly.
As a senior in high school, I decided to explore going to Wayland when my junior high school coach told me he thought I could get a scholarship with the Flying Queens. He took me to Plainview for try-outs in the spring of 1956. There were 103 girls trying out. I was a good defensive player. I guess that’s what Coach (Harley Redin) was looking for because I was fortunate to receive one of the three full scholarships available.
When I arrived at Wayland, I was overwhelmed as I did not know anyone. However, my first impressions were positive because I was quickly accepted by the other Queens. As a result, I felt a part of the team and the campus from the beginning. My whole experience at Wayland was positive and I’m very proud of my time there.
My years at Wayland provided many memorable moments. As I had never been in an airplane, flying was memorable as was my time in the Hutcherson home. Claude and Wilda invited us over often and treated us like family. My life was changed forever when I began dating Vernon Stokes my sophomore year. We married during my junior year putting an end to my being part of the Flying Queens. College rules prohibited married people (women) from competing in athletics. During my senior year, our first child, Shelly, was born on our first wedding anniversary. She won the baby parade at Homecoming and received the “scholarship” that went with the honor.
My best memories as a Flying Queen include flying to games and being part of the team, making the starting lineup as a freshman, and winning the national tournament my freshman year. Through the Hutchersons, I was exposed to a privileged lifestyle that included chartered flights on Beechcraft Bonanzas and the finest hotels, meals, uniforms and hair styles money could buy. At Wayland and in Plainview, we were celebrities. When we played out of state, everyone in Plainview sat around the radio and listened to the game. When it was time for nationals, as many students as possible took off to the national tournament. Back in those days it was a really big deal if you could go watch the national tournament. To celebrate a national championship, Wayland and Plainview held parades in our honor and people lined the streets to watch us ride by in brand new corvettes.
My least favorite moment as a Flying Queen occurred in my sophomore year. It was not a surprise to anyone to see us playing for yet another national AAU title, as the Queens had won four AAU titles in a row and had won 129 consecutive games going into the tournament. We won our first two games and came up against our rival, Nashville Business College. Then my least favorite moment happened. The Flying Queens tasted defeat for the first time in five years, losing 46-42 in the semi-final game in St. Joseph, Mo. The defeat left an entire campus speechless with classes canceled at Wayland the next day. It was traumatic. We were devastated. The winning streak was going when I got to Wayland, and it was something we felt like we had to keep going. But there came a time for it to end and that was the time. It was also the last game I played as a Flying Queen.
I continued at Wayland, graduating in 1960 with a degree in elementary education. Though I had my teaching degree, I stayed at home with our four children, two girls and two boys, until they were old enough to be in school. Then I taught in elementary school for twenty-four years in third and sixth grades. Teaching school and making a difference in the lives of students was a rewarding experience. My husband, Vernon, was involved in public education for 42 years before retiring. He has served on the Board of Trustees at Wayland for nineteen years, allowing opportunities for us to maintain relationships with Wayland. I also try to keep in contact with teammates and with Coach Redin. Harley was the very best!!
My greatest joys all revolved around our family—getting married, having our children, and watching the children grow to be strong, contributing people—Shelly an elementary school teacher, Shane an attorney, Shauna in fashion marketing, and Shannon a dentist. We have fourteen grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Vernon and I have just celebrated 60 wonderful years of marriage.
My greatest sorrow—watching both daughters experience cancer. Shauna died at 38 years of age, leaving a wonderful husband and three children—13, 11, and 8. Shelly died at 50 years of age, leaving a husband and four children—24, 22, 20 and 18. It was very difficult watching the struggles this brought, especially with their families. It was also very hard, especially watching the children grieve, as this was part of our grief as well.
Regarding my hobbies and interests, I like reading and volunteering, and we have enjoyed travelling. I have visited 40 of the 50 states; been to Israel twice; and toured France, Germany, Austria, Greece, Switzerland, England, Canada, and Mexico.
If I had a chance to talk to current Queens and/or their coaches, I would tell them:
give it your best; always be honest; and, treat others as you want to be treated. I would add that it is great to win, but that is not the most important thing in life. As to what I learned from playing basketball, I learned sportsmanship, to play as a team member, and was challenged to do my best!
As to what Wayland friends/teammates would be surprised to know—in my senior year high school, I scored 52 points in a game; basketball may have taken its toll on my body, as I have had both hips replaced, both knees replaced at the same time, and will have a shoulder replaced in mid-February of 2018.
I would like to conclude with what I consider one of the greatest ironies of my life. Knowing that a small Baptist college in the Panhandle of Texas during the 1940s and 1950s was liberal enough to accept women’s athletics—that defines the term ironic. Thank you, Wayland!