(Thanks to former Queen Bee Darla Merrill who interviewed Carmen and wrote this story on Carmen’s behalf.)
Carmen grew up in Amarillo, the eldest of three girls raised by a single mom. As a young girl, she loved to run and was quite good at it. Her mom would send her to the store about three blocks away. She would run so fast that she’d be back before her mom even knew she had left. She competed on a city track and field team, running several events. She held the city record for the 200 until this past March when she was contacted on Facebook by someone telling her that their granddaughter just broken her record.
Carmen dreamed of and was working hard to earn a track scholarship. Until seventh grade she ran track and played volleyball, never thinking about playing basketball until the junior high basketball coach, Jane Jones, insisted she try out. She learned a lot from Coach Jones. However, she went to church with former Flying Queen and Amarillo High School basketball coach Rosemary Brown and Pearl Worrell, another former Flying Queen and Palo Duro High School’s basketball coach. They took her under their wings. Coach Brown invited her to play pickup games at Amarillo High School. Carmen thought it was pretty cool to play with the big girls and continued to try out and play. She would ride her bike to the high school gym just to play basketball with the high school kids.
At first it took a bit for Carmen to get adjusted to the game. Coach Brown told her she had to catch the ball and if she didn’t she was going to run a suicide. She said Coach kept passing to her for the next hour until she developed the skill that no matter what kind of pass she received, she was going to catch it!
As a freshman, Carmen was a starter on the varsity team and really enjoyed it. As a junior, she decided that she would rather have a basketball scholarship instead of a track scholarship and focused on playing basketball. In fact, she was one of the top recruits in 1983. However, the father of one of her high school teammates thought otherwise and wrote an article for the newspaper stating that he didn’t think she had enough post moves to be a top recruit, much less take the starting position away from his daughter. He didn’t think Coach Brown had the skills to teach her the post position either. Enter Pearl Worrell, whom she credits with teaching her post skills. Both Rosemary and Pearl inspired Carmen and spent time with her, taking her down to Wayland to watch the Queens play. It was then that she knew she wanted to play at the same school where they had played.
During Carmen’s senior year, Coach Brown called her into her office and gave her two boxes full of hanging files with information from all the schools that had recruited her. Now it was decision time. She visited Wayland again and decided to become a Flying Queen because of their commitment to the game and because they were such a tight knit team… as they say now, a “ride or die” team. Going to Wayland also allowed her to go home often so she could help her mom with her sisters. She believed that one is in control of their life if they had God in their life. She knew that God had something better for her. He had basketball.
When Carmen signed with Wayland, Cathy Wilson was the coach but soon resigned. Wayland told her that she didn’t have to come, but she decided that she was going to Wayland anyway. She felt that all the Queens before her were not only committed athletically but academically as well and were role models to not only students at the school, but also to people everywhere they went. Carmen said old school laid the groundwork. Any team that came after them had to keep up and put the team first.
Wayland had a few great sponsors, such as the Hutchersons and the Georges. Carmen said, “You wonder when you watch some of the teams now if they have the same foundation that we had. Just because Wayland was a small school did not mean that it did not make its mark in history. We did it. We made that mark.” (note: see For the Record at the end of Carmen’s story.)
Playing at Wayland was a positive experience for her. She felt it was where she was supposed to be, and she felt comfortable there, like it was where God wanted her to be. She said her pastor told her that if there is anything you do, do it in excellence.
Carmen feels like the women’s game has changed and not necessarily for the better. She references playing with long nails, which she wasn’t able to do. She says today she would rather watch the men’s game because they fight tooth and nail trying to get to the national tournament. That’s the way the Queens played. You gave it all you had, and you left it all on the court. She feels like she had one of the coolest advantages ever: being left-handed. Sometimes the opposing team figured it out and sometimes they didn’t. She remembers one time, in the middle of a game, the coach yelled out, “for God’s sake she is left-handed!”
One highlight that stands out to Carmen was breaking Lometa Odom’s scoring record. The record had stood for more than 30 years. She never expected to break it, but at the same time believed that if one was committed to the program, they could break it. She recalled it being a home game and needing two baskets to break the record. She said everyone felt like this was the night she was going to do it. She twisted her ankle. Suzie, the trainer, taped it up and she returned courtside. She looked at her coach and said, “This is going to happen tonight.” He let her go back into the game and once she scored those two baskets, he took her out so she could take care of her ankle. She refers to that as her one shining moment. She said playing through tough times is just what the Queens did. That is a part of their legacy, and one she is very proud of.
Carmen says she has so much to be grateful for from being a part of the Flying Queens, such as the people who become family. One particular family that had a tremendous impact on her life is the Harrison family. Sharla Harrison was not only a teammate but became a close friend/sister as well. Sharla shared her family, especially her father with her. The Harrisons were always there for Carmen. She recalls when they played in the national tournament, she felt like her mom was there even though she hadn’t been able to see her play college ball. The Harrisons arranged for her mom to be there so she could finally watch her play. In fact, she became so close with the Harrisons that Sharla’s dad gave her away at her wedding. She said, “Having Al walk me down the aisle was truly a blessing.”
Carmen keeps in contact with the Harrisons, having met up with them in DC for dinner. It was like time had not passed, which she calls the true test of friendship. Never missing a beat, no matter how long it has been since the last time you were together. The Queens are that way, she says.
Although she has not been able to go to all of the Queen’s events, Carmen still feels a part of the legacy and the history. She not only appreciates the opportunity to play basketball and receive scholarship, but also the opportunity to walk away with an awesome extended family. She feels like she has a boatload of sisters, all of whom had a profound impact on her life. She is proud to be a part of that legacy and is appreciative for all of the opportunities and doors that opened up to her because she was a part of the Queens. She also felt blessed to be able to go to school and get an education.
Carmen says her Flying Queens experience shaped her attitude toward whatever she does. She feels that she can do anything her heart desires. Carmen sought to instill this same attitude in her daughter; the desire to be a part of something bigger than herself with a group of strong, independent, driven women. A drive to be, to do everything and anything, and to strive for excellence, even after college.
She says the Queens’ legacy has been always there, whether they are next to her or miles away. Carmen believes that the Flying Queens will continue to be one of those prestigious programs. She says that no matter where a young girl goes to college, the Queens are a part of that thread. Whether it be Connecticut or South Carolina, it all traces back to the Flying Queens!
Carmen said as a student, there were not many organizations at Wayland to choose from other than the choir or Theta Alpha Psi, so she joined the Hamabre Club, an organization started by the track team with a cultural purpose of learning about African roots. Unfortunately, it lasted maybe two months.
Also while at Wayland, Carmen met Michael Parks who played basketball for the Pioneers. Michael remembers a time when the Queens and Pioneers had double headers. When the Queens were playing, the stands were full. However, when the Pioneers played, the crickets came out. Michael was a standout on the Pioneers and in 2002 was inducted in the Wayland Athletic Hall of Honor.
Carmen and Michael were married on December 26, 1989, on Michaels birthday. She is proud of their 33-year marriage. Carmen started her working career as an intern insurance adjuster for Ed Harrison, whom she called Uncle Ed. She liked the idea of being able to set her own schedule, which allowed her time during the rest of the day to do other things.
She and Michael lived in Northern Virginia where she spent over 20 years working for Allstate as an Insurance Adjuster. They later moved to Oklahoma where she took on side jobs as an independent adjuster. She also worked briefly with Hertz before being laid off in April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It reminded of her playing days when the game got rough. If something is not going your way you improvise and get it done. Just like on the court, you make adjustments.
Carmen and Michael have one daughter, Ashley, their pride and joy. Ashley stayed away from the shadow of her basketball-playing parents and instead excelled academically, as a volleyball standout, and in theater arts. Michael created a wall of fame in their home to honor all of her accomplishments. Ashley graduated from Texas Christian University with loads of honors, one of which was as the highest academic honor for scholars in the Literary Arts, and as the Phi Beta Kappa Senior Scholar. Currently she resides in South Carolina and works as an Associate Editor with Red Ventures, a top media company.
Carmen and Michael reside in Oklahoma. They promised Michael’s mom that when Ashley graduated from TCU, he would move her back home to Oklahoma. Carmen’s favorite pastime is reading. She has a Westie named Bella, who she says has her own unique personality. Carmen is still a part of the TCU Parent Association and volunteers for different committees when asked.
Within her community Carmen volunteers at a food bank in hopes of raising awareness to the need for food banks. She also mentors at her church, Life Church, in Oklahoma City. She says, “We don’t see ourselves as a mega church, but we will do anything short of sin to bring people to Christ.” She believes giving back is important and is involved in partnerships with many programs associated with her church.
If Carmen had the chance to talk to Coach Brown and/or Coach Worrell she would thank them for taking her under their wings and let them know how much that meant to her.
If Carmen had the chance to talk to current players, she would encourage them like Coach Adams, head coach of the Pioneers did when Michael played. He would always give the team something to think about before practice and then at the end of practice, he would ask them about it. If no one remembered, they had to run. Michael would share these thoughts with Carmen every day, and the two of them utilized this tactic themselves when they coached teams in the future.
Carmen also would tell the current Queens that success is where preparation meets opportunity and to seize every opportunity that comes their way. She said as teammates you can do anything as long as you do it with excellence. All of the practices that you go to, no matter the rank of the team you’re playing, your success is going to be based on your preparation, and your commitment to excellence is determined by your preparation. She said her team knew they were prepared and looked forward to the opportunity to execute.
When asked what it means to her that the Flying Queens are enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame she said the Flying Queens being inducted into the hall shows how the program is strong part of history for women’s athletics and is a part of her legacy. She feels that it is a well-deserved honor, not only for those that played before, but for those who come afterward. All who played for the Queens are a part of this legacy and have a strong history to live up to. She says that every young lady who plays for the Queens are adding to that history and legacy and not everyone can say that.
Editors note: Anyone wishing to write or call Carmen may request her contact information from Darla Merrill at firstname.lastname@example.org
For the Record:
The Flying Queens played in the NAIA National Tournament three of Carmen’s four years, including the 1986 NAIA Finals.
For her career, Carmen earned NAIA and American Women’s Sports Federation All-American honors three times and was a two-time Kodak All-American honoree.
The Flying Queens career leader in free throws (420 made-720 attempted) and blocked shots (187), Carmen also holds the season record for blocked shots (72). which she set during her sophomore year, and the career record for blocked shots (187).
Although she finished her playing career in 1987 as the all-time scoring leader in Queen’s history with 2,310 points, she currently sits at number three on that list behind Hazel Taylor (1996-99) with 2,446 points and her former teammate, Sharla Harrison George (1985-89) with 2,461 points.
In her final season, Wynn-Parks was featured on the cover of the 1986-87 NAIA media guide, and in the Flying Queens basketball media guide for that season, her Wayland career was described in the following way:
“Thirty-eight years of women’s basketball. Ten national championships. One hundred thirty-seven All-Americans. Twenty 1,000-point scorers. The 1986-87 season will showcase what is arguably the best of them all—senior Carmen Wynn.”