I grew up in the small town of Channing, Texas. When I say small, it had a population 304, and I graduated with a class of 9—all girls. My dad was the basketball coach in Channing, and my mom was the second-grade teacher. I have one younger brother, Brandon. My dad grew up in New Jersey and played basketball at a junior college in Oklahoma and then played at West Texas State University. This is where he met my mom—a small town girl from Claude, Texas. So, basketball was a huge part of my life. I practically lived in the gym and loved riding the bus to games with my dad’s teams as a young child. I decided I wanted to play basketball in college as a young child growing up and attending basketball camps every summer at West Texas University. I looked up to all of the counselors that played for WT and didn’t know it at the time but one of those counselors would end up being my college coach at Wayland—Sheryl Estes.
My junior year, Sheryl came to one of my AAU basketball games over the summer and asked me to attend her varsity camp at Wayland. After attending that camp, she began to recruit me going into my senior year. At the time, I was also being recruited by West Texas University and went to watch one of their games in Canyon. The Flying Queens were at that game scouting for an upcoming game against them. I sat with the Flying Queens team and coaches and knew that Wayland was where I wanted to pursue my dream of playing college basketball. It had such a rich tradition and on my visit to the campus Coach Estes took me out to the airport and showed me the 6 passenger planes that they flew to all of the away games. I saw videos of the pre-game warm up and the different “tricks” that each player would do. I signed early that next fall and worked basketball camps the following summer after I graduated. We always had fun working camps and although Wayland was small, it was the right fit for me after growing up in such a small community. I loved my experiences at Wayland and pretty much after my sophomore year I knew that I wanted to become a speech pathologist. I thought about transferring to a university that had that program but decided to pursue a degree at Wayland in Education to finish out my basketball career.
Coach Estes always scheduled one big trip a year and we were able to go to Florida, California and two trips to Hawaii while I was at Wayland. These experiences were amazing—so many memories and not just of basketball! The friendships made with teammates through the years will last a lifetime. My most memorable moments at Wayland would be the Queens Classic over Thanksgiving. Every year we looked forward to the best high school and college teams to come to Plainview for this tournament over Thanksgiving weekend. What made it even better was that after I graduated from Channing, my dad took the head girls basketball coaching job at Amarillo High School. His teams were able to come and play in this tournament through the years.
There are so many memorable moments as a Flying Queen—from Freshman initiations, early morning workouts at the track, plane rides, Tom and Bobby announcing games, Marsha greeting us before games selling t-shirts and babysitting for Mike and Suzy. Definitely the “best” most memorable moment as a Flying Queen was making it to the National Championship game as a freshman. We played in Jackson, Tennessee and ended up losing to Arkansas Tech. The other “worst” most memorable moment was my freshman year when I knew I wasn’t feeling well but didn’t really want to tell the coaches because we were about to leave for our big trip to Florida to play in a tournament. I was taking Theraflu and hoping I would be good to go by the time we got there. I remember the horrible pain in my ear each time we had to land the planes to refuel. Once we arrived I was running fever and our assistant coach, Jill Wilson, took me to the doctor. I had strep throat—which meant I got a hotel room to myself where I stayed for the remainder of the trip-I experienced quarantine before the time of Covid! Our team won and, if I remember correctly, my roommate (Lisa Kolodziejcyk-our post) made a 3-point shot at the buzzer to win one of the games. (We always knew if we wanted to have fun on these trips, a win was a necessity!) The team went to the beach and Disneyworld and of course had all the fun!
While at Wayland, I spent a great deal of my basketball career struggling with stress fractures above my ankle. I was in a walking boot a lot and would have to sit out for a period of time to let it heal. The struggle taught me that things in life are not always easy. You have to push through difficult times with a positive attitude and I learned that some things in life are just out of our control. We can quit or we can learn how to persevere.
I have been married to Codi Cleavinger for 25 years. We live in Nazareth, Texas and have 3 children –Kinzi, Kaden and Kambri. Kinzi just graduated from West Texas A&M University with a degree in psychology and is currently in graduate school for counseling. Kaden is a freshman at Wayland Baptist University-playing basketball for the Pioneers. His major is Sports and Exercise Science. Kambri is a 7th grader at Nazareth and enjoys cross country, basketball and cheerleading.
After graduating from Wayland, I taught second grade for two years and PE/music for one year as I pursued a master’s degree through TWU long distance program in Communication Sciences and Disorders. I am currently a speech language pathologist for Swisher-Briscoe SSA that serves Kress, Silverton, Tulia and Happy. I enjoy traveling and spending time with family and friends.
One thing that they might be surprised to know about me now is that I really, really HATE to fly! I loved all the trips we took and the memories we made when we flew to our games, but honestly would never want to fly in a 6-passenger plane again! I have been able to see a few of my teammates that live close through the years and always treasure the time we get to spend together. If I had a chance to tell my former teammates one thing, it would be IT IS TIME FOR A REUNION!
Cassie Blaut Cleavinger
Wayland Grad 1996
Flying Queen Forever!
Editors note: Anyone wishing to write or call Cassie may request her contact information from Darla Merrill at firstname.lastname@example.org