I’m Cathy Wilson and this is my story.
“Girl, you missed your calling!” That’s how Sylvia Hatchell, Hall of Fame North Carolina coach, greeted me at the 2012 NCAA championships in Denver.
I quit coaching in 1983 and found a new calling as a certified financial planner but never lost my lifelong passion for basketball.
My dad, John “Pete” Wilson, was a school administrator, teacher and coach, and mother, Jimmie Lou, was a 5th grade teacher for more than 30 years.
Daddy was the two-time state championship girls’ basketball coach at Abernathy, TX. Cindy, my older sister by five years, and I were gym rats. When Daddy was offered the superintendents’ job at Petersburg, we packed up and made the 20-mile drive to our new home. He started his first day as superintendent, and I started my first day in the 4th grade.
It was a pretty easy transition for me. There were lots of kids, and friends I made on move-in day are still my friends today.
The transition may not have been quite as easy for my mother. Distracted by the demands of setting up a new home, mom didn’t see me disappear on the back of a scooter with some of the neighborhood kids. She found me at the Stanton’s farm and told June, who would become her best friend, “I’m so sorry. I never let my kids run around like this.”
But that wouldn’t be the last time. Once she lost me at church. My friend, Donna Stanton (June’s daughter), and I were in plain sight, standing proudly at the front of the sanctuary in oversized robes and singing with the adult choir.
That’s just how it was in Petersburg in those days – one big, happy, safe family.
Like any other small, rural community, life revolved around school, church, planting season and stripping cotton. And everybody did everything. We played all sports, sang in the choirs, marched in the band, plowed the fields and picked the cotton.
And because Daddy was superintendent and very involved in the Texas University Interscholastic League (UIL), we continued to go to all the state girls’ basketball tournaments in Austin. That’s where my friends and I first saw Susan Britton play. She was a phenom from Earth, TX, and later became a three-time All-American at Wayland Baptist University.
We went to Plainview, too, to watch the Hutcherson Flying Queens, one of the most prolific women’s basketball teams of the day.
Then one Sunday morning in 1966, my world turned upside down. Daddy suffered his first heart attack. Sister Cindy was at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, and I was in the 7th grade.
Daddy had his second heart attack two years later and had to retire as superintendent. We spent the summer in Ulysses, Kansas, where Daddy recovered and worked for an old school friend from McMurry College in Abilene, TX. (Mother and Daddy met at McMurry and married in 1947.) I spent that summer as a hotel phone operator and dishwasher. I also helped build a skating rink, much to the disdain of my parents, who thought some of the construction workers were a bit “shady.” But it was good for me, and if I didn’t know it already, that summer taught me the value of family and hard work.
After that memorable summer in Kansas, we returned to our home in Petersburg and the Buffettes. I played any position Coach Bob Whelchel asked. But at 5’9” (although I was always listed at 5’10”), I mostly played post in what was still a six-man game in Texas.
We were good. We were always a playoff team but never made it to the state tournament in Austin.
After my senior season but still during my senior year, I was asked to play for the Queen Bees, Wayland’s “junior varsity,” at the AAU national tournament in Gallup, NM. Two other high school girls and I teamed up with some of the college players. It was an eye-opening experience and gave me the confidence that I could play at that level.
At home that year in 1971, Daddy had successful open-heart surgery.
WAYLAND BAPTIST UNIVERSITY — PLAYER
College was my next stop, but recruiting wasn’t what it is now. I applied to and registered for classes at Texas Tech. That’s when Wayland Coach Harley Redin called; I re-packed my bags and drove my white hand-me-down, four-door Delta 88 toward Plainview and the Hutcherson Flying Queens. It was the chance of a lifetime and the best decision I ever made.
I was greeted there by Flying Queen seniors Cherri Rapp and Susan Britton. (Yes, that Susan Britton, whom I had admired years earlier from the stands at the high school state tournament.)
I was given my freshman beanie, that was to be worn at all times, assigned a weekly chapel seat and tutored in appropriate Queen traditions and protocols. From then on, it was “Yes, Miss Rapp, Ma’am” and “Yes, Miss Britton, Ma’am.”
The team was sponsored by Claude and Wilda Hutcherson, owners of the Hutcherson Flying Service. Wilda was the Queen matriarch and made certain that we dressed and acted in a manner befitting the college and the team. Claude was the pilot, and with two other pilots, flew us in three small-engine planes to all of our away games.
For many of my teammates, it was their first time to fly. For me, it was my first time in a small plane. It was fun. And if anyone had a fear of flying, those feelings disappeared pretty quickly. It was just one more part of the Queens’ experience.
I was a “5’10”” forward/post on Coach Redin’s last two teams. As was tradition, we warmed up Harlem Globetrotter-style to “Sweet Georgia Brown.” Like Meadowlark Lemon and Fred “Curly” Neal, we would circle up, spinning balls and whipping passes. My “trick” was to throw the ball up to the rafters, catch it behind my back and pass it between my legs to a teammate for an easy layup.
Then it was game time. And it was serious. We had a championship reputation to uphold. The Flying Queens had won nine AAU national championships, playing against industrial/business teams, other colleges and international teams.
Basketball was serious but so was Wahoo, a cut-throat board and marble game. We played that game for hours at a time. Sally Miller and I took on all comers and claimed victory as Wahoo champs.
As a team, we spent time off-the-court and off-campus as well. We camped together in Palo Duro Canyon and Caprock Canyons State Park and shared other fun, innocent “bonding” experiences.
We were tight as a team, but we were also tight with the Wayland community. As a freshman, I was nominated by a fraternity to be their representative in the Miss Wayland Pageant. I said, “There’s no way that is going to happen.” Miss Rapp and Miss Britton, Ma’am, thought otherwise.
Devoid of a traditional pageant talent, I performed the charwoman stripper skit made popular by Carol Burnett. There I was in my washerwoman outfit with a mop and bucket, on stage for all to see.
I brought down the house.
A month or two later, Wayland’s director of alumni services, Joe Provence, asked me to give an encore performance at the college’s “A Beautiful Evening” event. There I was – again – this time surrounded by former Miss Texas and Miss Wayland winners, all dressed in sequined evening gowns and high heels. I was in an old dress, baggy sweater, do-rag and scuffed-up hiking boots.
And for the second and, thankfully, last time, I brought down the house.
The laughs, however, weren’t confined to pageants.
I had a late-afternoon lab class right before practice so had to go to lab ready to work out. Twice a week, I’d show up for lab in work-out clothes, team warm-ups and my hair in ponytails. One of my male classmates took creative advantage of the opportunity, borrowed a Queens’ sweatsuit and put his hair in ponytails. We looked like twins! But I was the better basketball player.
Harley Redin retired after my sophomore season. Our new coach was Dean Weese, who had coached me in the Texas High School All-Star Game.
He was tough and demanding. And I loved it. I knew that if he ever stopped yelling at me, he had given up on me. Thankfully, he never stopped yelling.
Coach Weese was a great teacher and coach. He didn’t demand perfect execution, but he always demanded perfect effort. He made us all better and gave me the confidence to become a full-time starter as a junior.
He might have given me a little too much confidence. Before our game against the Russian National Team, I told Coach “not to worry … we had this.” Russia’s 7’1” Uljana Semjonova quickly put me in my place.
That was one of the four games we lost in 1973-74, but we went on to win the AAU and NWIT national titles.
My senior year, we went 34-1, repeating as AAU and NWIT champs. Our only loss was in the AIAW tournament to eventual winner Immaculata, a private Roman Catholic college. Their fans, including the nuns, came out in force. The nuns were armed with metal buckets and spoons and hammered those drums to beat the band. We couldn’t hear a thing; they did their job. They were the games’ MVPs as far as I was concerned.
Losing the game was bad enough. Then I got the call that Daddy had suffered another heart attack. He insisted that I stay for the consolation game. The second that buzzer sounded, Coach Weese and I took off, and he sprinted through the airport to make sure the plane didn’t leave without me.
I made that flight, and Daddy survived … again.
In spite of Daddy’s health problems, I enjoyed my final year at Wayland as “Miss Wilson, Ma’am,” and graduated with a double major in education and English in May of 1975.
NAZARETH, TEXAS — COACH
The superintendent at Nazareth called me about an opening for an English teacher and head girls’ basketball coach. I made the one-hour drive and immediately fell in love with the town, the school and the people. In many ways, it felt like “home.” Naz was a small, close-knit, rural community, much like Petersburg. And like “P-City,” it had one school for all grades, 1-12.
As we started the tour, I saw mostly boys – good-looking kids but mostly on the smaller side. Then I spotted the girls – big, strong, blonde German Catholic girls, and I thought, “Hmmm, I can do something here.”
The school also needed a reading specialist, and I needed an assistant, so I persuaded Beverly McDaniel, one of my P-City friends and teammates who had gone with Daddy and me to Austin several times, to join me in Nazareth.
I taught 7th, 8th and 9th grade English, and Bev and I coached the 7th-12th grade Swiftettes.
The gym was built like a barn, different from a lot of traditional gyms, but full of character and charm. It was, however, lacking a sufficiently sized locker room and office. Heck, I had helped build a skating rink in Kansas; I could expand this. So Bev and I, along with some volunteers, strapped on our tool belts and went to work.
We went to work on the court as well. I was tough, probably a lot like Coach Weese. And I loved those kids. Cheryl Hartman, three Schulte sisters (Elaine, Rosie and Karen), Chelle Pohlmeier and Vera Birkenfeld were on my first roster. (If you look at a Naz roster today, you’ll still see many of these same surnames.)
One of my challenges was to re-acquaint myself with the six-player game. (It was a five-player, full-court game at Wayland.) But we quickly found our groove.
It was also during this first year that I started hanging on to a towel, nothing special, just any ole gym towel. It was something I would do during games throughout my coaching career. It kind of became a trademark. I talked to Towel … a lot!
I guess it worked. We won regionals in Levelland, and the whole town congregated in Dimmitt. We had a police escort from there back to Naz. I was driving our faithful bus, the Yellow Dog, and pick-up trucks and cars full of screaming family and friends were circling the bus and dodging ditches. It was crazy!
For the first time in Swiftettes’ history, we were going to Austin.
The entire town went nuts. Even David Bounds and his Ag boys joined in on the fun. They took out the back seats of the Yellow Dog so the girls would have room to lay down and stretch out during the eight-hour drive to State. And they installed the newest in technology – an 8-track tape player. We were going to Austin in style!
Family and friends, farmers in combines and workers on tractors lined the roadways for our send off.
We made history but lost our semifinal game in Austin. Our fans, however, never lost their enthusiasm. They knew we had done something special, and there would be more championships to come.
Most of the players were returning, with one big exception – Elaine Schulte. She graduated and was going to Plainview to play for the Hutcherson Flying Queens and Coach Dean Weese.
The next year, we had high expectations and picked up where we had left off. Silverton was one of our biggest rivals, and we were playing at their gym. The team wasn’t playing as well as I would have liked. I was ultra-focused on the court and yelling into that Towel. I didn’t notice the commotion going on behind me in the stands. I felt several fans standing behind me, blocking my view, but I didn’t give it much thought.
After the game, which we won, I was told that the “commotion” behind me was my dad. He had another heart attack.
My mom and Kenneth, Donna Stanton’s husband, rode with Daddy in the ambulance. Sally (my Wahoo partner and teammate at Wayland), her husband Tommy, Donna and I jumped into an International Harvester Jeep and sped toward the hospital in Plainview.
We were too late. Daddy died during transport on Jan. 28, 1977. He was 53.
My relationship with my dad probably wasn’t much different than most fathers and daughters. We had our ups and downs. It was tough at times. He was hard on me, and it often seemed that I couldn’t do anything right. But basketball was always common ground. We shared that passion and could talk offensive and defensive strategies for hours. We would debate the pros and cons of those strategies, but there was never a harsh word.
As I got older and he got frailer, I saw his “softer” side. I saw the man that would load up half-a-dozen of the poorer students in Petersburg and treat them to a day at the Lubbock Fair. And I got to know the man who bought a new Jimmy Connors tennis racket for a kid who couldn’t afford one. I got to know that man. I always respected him, but those last few years gave me the chance to love him. And for him to love me.
Daddy died on a Friday. Coach Weese came to our house on Saturday; I will always love him for that. The funeral was on Sunday. And Mother, now a 50-year-old widow, shooed me out of the house, saying, “You have a team to coach.” I was back in Nazareth on Monday.
We won the state title that year, a first at Naz, and during halftime of the championship game, UIL officials paid tribute to Daddy. He had stayed involved with the UIL throughout his adult life. I missed the tribute because, as my Mother said, “I had a team to coach.”
Whether it was Daddy’s death or just the need for a change and a new challenge, I’m not sure. Some of my best memories were at Naz. But I accepted the head coaching job at Slaton High School shortly after that season.
My assistant, Bev, stayed in Naz. She’s still in Naz, married to Bob Schulte.
SLATON, TEXAS – COACH
Slaton wasn’t big by any stretch of the imagination, but it was larger by far than Petersburg or Nazareth. The people, though, were warm, friendly and welcoming. And the players were talented and committed.
We started that first year just like I had at Naz, working hard on dribbling, passing, shooting, rebounding and defending. As far as I am concerned, the game — and playing it successfully — is and has always been about mastering the fundamentals.
Practices were tough, organized and disciplined. What we did in practice, we did in games.
And, I had a secret weapon – the Towel. I was still talking to that Towel … a lot.
We advanced to State that year, and instead of the Yellow Dog, we rode in the comfort of a Greyhound Bus. Mom came with us, as well as my two cousins – Kamie and Kriss Ethridge. They were 7th and 8th graders at the time and missed a junior high tennis tournament because of the trip. Coach kicked them off the team. Big mistake – I’m convinced they could have been the first big Sister Act in the world of tennis. Instead, they concentrated on basketball.
Both played for Monterey High School in Lubbock, and both were recruited by Jody Conradt to play for the University of Texas. Kamie was the starting point guard on the 1986 national championship team and received the Wade Trophy. She was also a member of the next gold-medal winning Olympic Team. Kamie is now the head women’s basketball coach at Washington State University, and Kriss is a successful high school coach in Lubbock.
At the time, however, they were probably just as happy drinking Big Reds in the hotel room as they were watching our basketball games. But they were good games to watch, and we won the State title, the last time high school girls played the six-man, half-court format.
We repeated as State champs in 1978-79, the first year of the five-player, full-court game for girls. It was Slaton’s third state title; they won their first in 1973-74.
I had some really good kids on those Slaton teams, and good kids are the “secret” to any coach’s success. I was fortunate to coach Debbie Bednarz, Chris Kennedy, Linda Lewis, Cynthia Robinson and Lynn Webb. Four of the five players named to the all-state tournament teams those two years were from Slaton.
I also coached a young up-and-coming player at Slaton named Esoleta Whaley. She went on to have a stellar career at the University of Texas. I once heard Jody Conradt being interviewed, and she referred to another player as being “Esoleta quick.” That was quite the compliment.
WAYLAND BAPTIST UNIVERSITY – COACH
Dean Weese resigned at Wayland after the 1978-79 season to accept the head coaching job for the new, start-up Dallas Diamonds in the Women’s Professional Basketball League.
I didn’t apply for the job; Wayland called me. I went in for an interview, they offered and I accepted on one condition – that my mother could accompany us on trips if and when she wanted. They agreed. And I became the first female and the first Queen to serve as the head coach at my alma mater.
I was 26 years old. That was of no concern to me at the time. When I started at Naz, I was a 21-year-old coaching 18-year-olds. Now, however, looking back some 40 years, I’m like, “What were they thinking?”
I had my work cut out for me that first year at Wayland. We lost seven players from the year before. And the collegiate women’s basketball climate was changing dramatically. Title IX shifted power from the small-school trail blazers like Wayland, Immaculata, Delta State and Old Dominion to Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana Tech and Rutgers.
Staffs at other schools were growing, and I was flying solo. It turned out to be a good thing that Mother was with us on most trips; I needed someone to keep the books.
But she never wanted to sit on the team bench. She’d sit a row or two behind us. During one particular game in New Orleans (and it was definitely a raucous New Orleans-type crowd), I needed to know how many fouls one of my players had. I was yelling and whipping the Towel around, but I could not get her attention. As luck would have it, the crowd noise lulled just as I hollered, “Momma!” (I never called her Momma, always Mom. Strange. Big mistake.) That got the crowd going. They started chanting “Maw-Muh, Maw-Muh, Maw-Muh …!
We recovered, though, won the game and escorted “Momma” out of that gym as quickly as possible.
We had a good team that year. Chris Kennedy, who had been my starting point guard at Slaton, came with me to Wayland and picked up where she left off. She was a tremendous floor leader. Kathy Harston, a senior All-American, was also on that team, but she was still rehabbing a torn ACL she suffered while water skiing the previous summer. Hobbled or not, Harston was one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen. She could score from anywhere at any time. She is still listed in the Wayland record book as their 8th leading scorer, and that was without benefit of the three-point shot.
Harston graduated from Wayland and became an outstanding high school and college coach. She was an assistant under Marsha Sharp at Texas Tech and Jody Conradt at Texas. When Conradt retired, she took a job as director of basketball operations for the final years of Pat Summitt’s tenure at Tennessee. She’s back at Texas now as senior associate athletics director for women’s sports programs.
People often ask me how I made the adjustment from high school to college and from 6-player to 5-player. It never seemed that difficult to me. I am such a firm believer in mastering the fundamentals of the game, and that never changed, regardless of the level or the format. Same goes for basic game principles: triangle offense – point, wing, post.
I loved studying game strategies and soaked up as much information as I could. Of course, I grew up with it because of Daddy. Coach Weese was a master. And when I coached in the Texas High School All-Star and Texas-Oklahoma games, I would learn from the other coaches. I read a lot and attended as many clinics and seminars as I could.
I hired Sally Miller, my Wayland teammate and Wahoo partner, as my assistant prior to my second year with the Queens. Sally had been coaching at my hometown of Petersburg. She had a good basketball mind but recruiting was becoming more and more important. Women were no longer beating down the Wayland doors hoping to get a chance to play.
Thanks to Title IX, there were lots of opportunities now. Sally was from Panhandle, TX, knew all the high school coaches in the area, and the girl could talk … about anything to anyone.
We were governed by AIAW at the time and had a good second season but didn’t make the 24-team cut to compete in the national tournament.
We turned it around in 1981-82, the last year of the AIAW. We were in the West region and beat Montana to open the tournament. Our next game was 1,400 miles away in Berkeley, CA, on Cal’s home court. We played a great game and somehow won the hearts of the Cal crowd. They started cheering for us, placing their fingers and palms one of top of the other and flapping their thumbs. The Flying Queens were alive and well! We won 85-70.
Next game: the Final Four at the Palladium in Philadelphia, PA, 1,700 miles away.
I remember sitting in the stands, by myself, looking at the Final Four program: Villanova — 6,000 students; Texas – 45,000; Rutgers – 60,000; Wayland – 1,500.
Our season ended with an 82-63 loss to Texas.
Our affiliation with AIAW ended then, too. Wayland was heading into a new era. The next season we went NAIA.
NATIONAL SPORTS FESTIVAL – ASSISTANT COACH
I was selected to be Sylvia Hatchell’s assistant coach at the National Sports Festival in Indianapolis in 1982. There were something like 3,000 athletes competing in more than 30 events. I remember Bob Hope was the emcee for the opening ceremony. That was a big deal to this girl from little Petersburg, TX. My cousin, Kamie Ethridge, was on our team. It was an incredible experience, and it would be the last time I spoke to Coach Hatchell … until 2012.
HANGING UP THE WHISTLE … AND THE TOWEL
After the 1982-83 season, Wayland’s first season in the NAIA, I retired from coaching. Wayland had entered into a new era. I, too, was entering a new era in my life and career. Within two years of retiring from coaching, I started my own financial advisory firm, C.S. Wilson & Associates, Inc., located in Amarillo, TX. In many ways, I’m still coaching and teaching, just not on the basketball court. I’m helping my clients reach their financial goals.
I gave Petersburg all my heart.
I gave Nazareth all my heart.
I gave Slaton all my heart.
I gave Wayland all my heart.
I am giving my C.S. Wilson & Associates’ clients all my heart.
I still love Basketball.
I would like to thank Dana Olmstead for writing this article. She spent many hours compiling my thoughts and memories. Dana was the former SID for Women’s Athletics at Texas Tech University and she retired as the Director of Communications at West Texas A & M University in 2008. She was one of my first clients when I started C.S. Wilson & Associates, Inc.