I’m Breena Caldwell and I grew up the small town of Cement, Oklahoma. I was the youngest of nine children – 5 girls and 4 boys. We had a small eight-acre farm outside of Cement where we all learned how to work hard. Even the animals had jobs…there were no pets. We always had a couple of cows, which we milked to supply our drinking milk, butter, and buttermilk. Each year we grew a big garden and much of the summer was spent canning vegetables and putting away food stuffs in our cellar for the coming winter. We usually had chickens for eggs or the freezer, a horse that we occasionally rode but was used to plow our fields, pigs for show or again, the freezer, and a couple of dogs and cats. Sometimes people would dump dogs here and there and that’s how we usually got a dog. They watched for strangers or varmints that shouldn’t be in our yard, and the cats were our mousers. So, with all there was to do on the farm we learned at a young age what hard work was and developed a strong work ethic.
Cement was, I guess, what you’d call an oil town. Most of the businesses in and around the town were affiliated in some way with supplying the oil companies or pumping the oil. My father worked for The Little Nick Oil Company as a pumper until he retired. In all of those years I only knew him to take a sick day maybe twice. He always seemed to do the “right thing” and was a man of few words. Mother was a stay-at-home mom who took care of almost all discipline, made most of our clothes, quilts, doilies, and mended anything that needed patching. She also was an awesome cook. We attended church every Sunday morning and night and many times on Wednesday night. My parents tried their best to instill good moral values and a strong work ethic through the way they lived their lives, and I think they did a pretty good job. We all graduated from high school, and I was the first to attend college.
Coming from a small town in Oklahoma to West Texas was a big deal for a little farm girl, who wasn’t planning on going anywhere. I wouldn’t have gone anywhere if it hadn’t been for my brother Bob and his wife Sue helping me see the door of opportunity. They lived in Lubbock at the time and learned about the Queens through a guy named Whistle Davidson who happened to be the coach at Texas Tech. Whistle also happened to be from Cement. My brother learned all about the Flying Queens, and he and his wife Sue began their mission to convince me to go to Plainview and try out. As I said, I wasn’t planning on going anywhere, but after some persuasion, I agreed to try out. A group of girls from Walters, Oklahoma was there that day and I tried out with them. Afterwards, Coach Weese asked me if I wanted to play with the Queens, and I said no! I simply wanted everyone to quit bothering me about going to college and now that I had tried out, they would stop bothering me. Coach Weese told me to think about it and if I changed my mind, I could give him a call. That wasn’t to be the end of it. It took six weeks as a Denny’s waitress and a call from my sister-in-law Sue to convince me I needed this opportunity. Sue said,” Breena, just try it for a semester and if you don’t like it you can always quit. You won’t know if you don’t try.” I called Coach Weese, and he got the ball rolling. That was one of the most important decisions I ever made. Thank you Bob, Sue, and Coach Weese.
Wayland was the perfect place for me. Small, Christian, and the West Texas people just seemed down to earth. I survived three initiations that first year and being a member of the Flying Queens included me in a group where I had what seemed like ready-made friends. My first year was a whirlwind of fun, travel, and learning experiences. One of the most significant learning experiences was that I wasn’t there just to play ball and have fun. I also was expected to go to class and get an education as was the tradition of the Flying Queens. Coach Weese and Dean Butler helped me to understand that it was a privilege to be at Wayland Baptist College and to play for the Flying Queens and I might want to get it in gear. So, I straightened up and became a much better student. I learned that I could actually do college work if I put in the effort. Thank you again, Coach Weese.
One of the greatest things about playing for the Flying Queens was that I played during a time when women’s basketball was really taking off. I was one of the lucky ones because the Hutcherson Flying Queens had been paving the way for women and were a successful team full of tradition. I had the opportunity to play all over the world and fly to my games on small planes. What an adventure!
Some highlights of my time at Wayland include traveling with the Queens to the 1975 AIAW National Tournament and experiencing Immaculata and their nuns with buckets and sticks. That same year I went to Russia with the AAU National Team. Coach Weese was the coach and his decision to include me on that team changed me as a player. It was life changing to play internationally and travel to Russia during the 70’s. To this day I vividly remember standing in a coliseum in Moscow while our flag was raised next to Stalin and Lennon flags then singing our national anthem. The Queens went to AIAW Nationals three of my four years at Wayland and to AAU Nationals twice.* I was selected as an NWIT All-American and an AAU All-American. I played in the 1976 Hanes All-American East / West game in Washington, DC, traveled to Czechoslovakia/Bulgaria for the USA National Tour in 1979, and a final trip to Hong Kong with Wayland as part of a missionary trip.
It’s interesting to read the stories from previous Queens, and one of those was by Brenda Moeller Niebuhr. In her story she included the height and weight of the Russian National Team. I was on that tour with Brenda and have told the story numerous times about seeing the Russians for the first time. We were sitting in the locker room with our door open, and Coach Weese was pumping us up. Somewhere during that talk the Russians jogged past our door. They were all huge, but when seven-foot Uleyama Semenova passed, we didn’t really see her head. We just looked at each other and honestly, I couldn’t tell you anything Coach Weese said after that.
All of the games I played for the Queens were fun, but a few were more memorable than others.
A game that was special even before it began was the 1976 AIAW National Semi-Final game against Delta State in Pennsylvania. The stands were packed as we warmed up. Suddenly, the doors at the end of the gym opened, and the Wayland Cheerleaders burst through yelling and cheering for us. How awesome! Claude Hutcherson had brought our cheerleaders to Penn State to cheer for us! We ultimately lost to Delta State by one point, and I fouled out of the game in the last minute. You just can’t get that experience anywhere. Working hard all year, managing injuries, traveling, going to classes and taking tests in motel rooms, playing with the best players in the nation and playing for the best coach in the nation and playing for a school that loves you….priceless! We came back from that game and they took us straight to Slaughter Dining Hall where most of the student body was packed in waiting for our arrival. It was such a letdown to lose the title that year, but here at our school, in our cafeteria, the student body had waited to welcome us back and lift us up. That is what is so special about Wayland Baptist College and The Flying Queens.
We also played at North Carolina State to a packed house. The student body was so loud and obnoxious. They filled the arena and got ready to help the Wolfpack beat the Flying Queens. I loved our warm up because it awed players and fans and infuriated them at the same time. I remember thinking during the warm up, “We are really big time now. Look at all these people, and they hate us!” The students behind our bench yelled so loud we couldn’t hear our coach and they threw signs at our feet during time-outs. The excitement and importance of these games was extreme, making the experience that much more fun and memorable. We lost that game, but later played, and beat, North Carolina State for the right to go to the 1978 AIAW National Tournament in California.
A few of my favorite memories at Wayland are: John Bush keeping the Slaughter Dining Hall open until the Queens (late from practice) came through; hiding outside Gates Hall after a big snow with snow balls, ready to bomb Mr. Turnbow instead of having sociology class; APO guys carrying Mike Baumgartner’s Volkswagen up the steps of the auditorium and leaving it there; systematically kidnapping 32 students (1 or 2 at a time) after lunch, hauling them to the motel, and throwing them into the pool; my mattress being taken from my room and put on the roof of Fleming Hall; sunbathing behind Fleming Hall; camping in Palo Duro Canyon; late nights at the Red Rooster; pranking the Queens’ rooms while they were away on road trips; sorority kidnaps; and, Wednesday Chapel. So many more, but these are just a few.
Wayland was a lot of work and a lot of fun, and I was incredibly proud to be a Flying Queen. I’m so lucky to have opened that door of opportunity and walked through.
Ultimately, Wayland opened doors of career opportunities for me. My first teaching position, which I got on a handshake with Sandra Meadows, was in Duncanville, Texas. That same year was the birth of the Women’s Professional Basketball League. I had a few friends playing in the league, and they contacted me to see if I would like to come try out. This was a no brainer, of course I wanted to play pro ball. Another door opened and I flew to Chicago, tried out, and signed a contract while there. I played in the league until it folded, then moved to Sacramento, California. I spent 10 years in Sacramento. Two of those years were spent coaching and working as a contractor on Mather Air Base. Later I took a position with United Parcel Service, which was a good fit for me as it utilized everything I learned about conditioning, coaching, and hard work. You also needed a degree to move into management for which I can thank Wayland. In 1992 I moved to San Antonio, and after taking care of my mother for six months, I became a long-haul truck driver serving the U.S. and Canada and later drove for the Postal Service in Denver. In 1999 I met Lynn Romero, and we were finally able to marry in 2013. After 20 years my career path brought me back to teaching and coaching and I now live in Corpus Christi where I will retire.
Those doors of opportunity also provided me with some of the best friends and relationships of my life. Did I mention that Shena Cooper was in that group from Walters, Oklahoma, and we tried out together? Leanne Waddell South, Tina Slinker, Marie Kocurek Montgomery, Shena Cooper Layn, and I all started at Wayland together and graduated together. We’ve had a few reunions in past years and it’s always so good to see everyone again. I wish it were easier to plan times to get together but we all have busy lives. Last summer our graduating group gathered at the Flying Queens Foundation golf tournament and played some questionable golf. We liked it so much we decided to meet in Corpus Christi and play another round for my birthday. Again, our play was questionable but the love we share, and the memories made were not.
Little did I know where the door of opportunity that was Wayland Baptist would take me, and looking back, I am so thankful that my sister-in-law didn’t give up on me and that Coach Weese said yes.