My name is Diana Lewis and I played for the Hutcherson Flying Queens from 1965-1969.
Growing up was quite an adventure. My dad was in the military, which meant I had the opportunity to live in a number of states and abroad in my younger years. I remember vividly living in the Philippine Islands for two years. We traveled by ship to get there and we were on the water for 21 days. I was seasick the entire trip and lived on saltine crackers and Seven Up. We attended school for only a half day for six months out of the year. The school was a long barrack type building with screened outside walls and awnings that had to be rolled down when it rained. Unfortunately, it rained every day during the monsoon season.
A family trip to Manila took us through the jungle where we stopped to see military tanks that had been left after the war. We visited beaches where there were sunken ships that had been left to rust and deteriorate. I was too young at the time to understand what those artifacts really meant.
Another family outing on the island took us to Balibago in the mountains. The scenery was beautiful; however, what I remember the most about this trip was not being able to stop or get out of the car until we got to our destination. My dad carried a gun, because there was a danger of being attacked by natives who lived in the mountains.
Returning to the States brought my family to Texas where I finished my elementary years in Abilene. It’s interesting the things you remember about events that happen in elementary school. I vividly recall my teacher catching me eating my brown bag lunch under the desk. She made me stand in front of the class as part of my punishment and I didn’t get to go to recess. Summertime was spent playing with horny toads and pulling goat head stickers out of our feet. We went barefoot in the summer and stickers were just a normal part of playing outside. Spending the night with a classmate who lived at the orphanage left a lasting impression on me. We slept in a large room with a lot of twin beds. The highlight of the sleepover was sneaking into the kitchen pantry at night and finding graham crackers for a midnight snack.
The end of the school year meant saying goodbye to classmates for the summer and looking forward to being in middle school. We moved to Merkel that summer, a small farming community west of Abilene, where I attended middle school for my first two years. Middle school was an awkward time of adolescence. We were becoming independent thinkers, searching for self-identity, and developing social skills. We were walking hormones waking up in a new world every day. I remember “going steady” with my first boyfriend in the seventh grade. He gave me his pocketknife as a symbol of his liking me. This was also the year I was introduced to the game of basketball. I would play for hours with the next-door neighbors on a dirt court. We shot at a goal, no net, that was nailed on a pole. I played my first organized game that year and it was instant love. I was extremely competitive growing up and basketball seemed like a natural transition from playing pickup sticks and shooting marbles.
We moved to the country the summer before my eighth-grade year. Living in the country meant getting up early to break the ice off of water troughs before getting ready for school and long trips to and from school on the bus. Walking to the nearest neighbors meant always being on the lookout for rattlesnakes crossing the road. Being the oldest of six girls meant we always had someone to play with or in some cases to engage in sibling rivalry! We rarely watched television, because it didn’t work. I always thought my dad took a tube out of the television, so we would have to learn to entertain ourselves.
The beginning of my eighth-grade year I attended school in Trent which meant adjusting to a new school and making new friends. Trent was a small class B school; I think the entire eighth-grade class consisted of only twelve or thirteen students. Middle school students had to participate in the high school band to have enough players to actually have a band, so I joined the band. I chose to play the drums, because drumsticks only cost $1.00 a pair and that was all my parents could afford. I would bring a snare drum home from school to practice, but I wasn’t allowed to play in the house. I played outside in the backyard to the chickens and pigs. I also played on the middle school basketball team, but I really don’t remember a lot about that season.
My freshman year we moved to town, which meant not having to take care of livestock or ride the school bus. I continued to play in the band and on the basketball team. We only had enough girls to field a varsity team and the football coach was our coach. I think I got to play less than a minute in the last game of the season that year, but I still had a passion for the game. My sophomore year Ralph Newton was named as our coach and the beginning of a new era in girls’ basketball at Trent was born. I remember at the beginning of the year Coach called us to huddle up and we sat down on the gym floor. He asked us who would like to play in the state tournament. Everybody raised their hand, so I raised mine, too. Honestly, I didn’t have a clue what the state tournament was. It didn’t take long for me to find out what the state tournament was and what it was going to take to get there. I learned so much about the game of basketball that year. Coach Newton taught us the basic fundamentals and instilled in us a burning desire to win. Our season came to an end when we lost our bi-district playoff game. I was crushed but looked forward to the next season. We accomplished our goal the following season by winning the state championship in class B. Winning a state championship for the first time was hard work but setting a goal to repeat the following season was even more of a challenge. Everyone wanted to beat the state champ and we had to be ready to play every opponent. I would walk to school in the dark so I could put in extra practice before school started. The custodian would let me in the gym where I played a lot of imaginary one on one. Our season was off to a good start; we were undefeated and had a 35-game winning streak going from the previous and current season. It was the Thanksgiving holiday and Coach scheduled a non-district game against a team in the panhandle. The ride on the bus was long and we knew nothing about the team we were going to play. I knew when we stepped off the bus, we were not mentally ready to play. We lost that game to Lubbock Roosevelt who ended their season as state champions in class A. The ride home seemed like eternity. We did finish our season as repeat state champions in class B with a record of 40 wins and 1 loss. That one loss taught us to always be mentally prepared. The highlight of the season for me was getting to play with and win a second state championship with my younger sister. What a great memory.
Now that basketball season was over my focus turned to the future. A college degree wasn’t a focus in my home, but I had made my mind up that I was going to college one way or the other. The summer before my senior year I worked in the cotton fields chopping cotton 10 hours a day. I worked with a family whose primary lively hood depended on the kids going to the fields in the summer. I remember being packed like sardines in the back of the car listening to Johnny Cash sing a Ring of Fire every morning six days a week the entire summer. Walking up and downs rows in the field chopping weeds out of the cotton all day long gave me a lot of time to think. I made $0.50 an hour working in the cotton field and it was extremely hard work. I knew there had to be a better way of making a living and for me that meant going to college. I knew my parents couldn’t help me financially, but I was determined to find a way. That spring a miracle happened when I received a letter from Coach Redin offering me a scholarship to play basketball for the Flying Queens. This meant I was going to get to continue to play a game I loved and fulfill my dream of going to college.
Graduation was a special time for our class of 14 graduates. The message given by our speaker was one that became words that resonated with me my entire life. He told us that we would experience failure in life and that it was part of the learning process. He went on to stress it would be important to learn from failing, but the most important thing to remember was to never quit. Little did I know at the time how important that message would be to me throughout my lifetime.
The day after graduation my family moved out of state and I was on my own as a seventeen-year old ready to live the dream. Thank goodness ignorance was bliss. I lived with my best friend and her Mom that summer working as a waitress at the local truck stop. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to accidentally empty a plate of food in a customer’s lap. I kept telling myself “this too shall pass.” At the end of the summer it was time to leave Trent and begin my journey at Wayland Baptist College. Prior to leaving for school I found out my summer living arrangement was not going to be an option and I was not sure where I was going to spend holidays or summer vacation. It was time for another miracle and divine intervention. A family in Trent knew I was on my own and invited me to live with them while I was going to school. The Hamners became like second parents. I couldn’t have achieved my dream without their love and support, and I will always be grateful for having them in my journey.
I remember arriving in Plainview and locating my new home. Matador Hall had to be the oldest building on campus, but it would be home. I affectionately referred to it as the Alamo. I think the dorm housed predominately freshman. The pay phone was in the hallway just outside of my room and I heard nightly calls home with lots of tears that first semester. At semester I moved to Owens Hall where most of the basketball players lived. Dorm life was great. I grew up in a large family and I felt at home just with a larger family.
The next four years at Wayland was filled with many experiences and friendships that became lifelong memories. I flew with Claude Hutcherson all four years and there was never a dull moment. I will never forget my first experience as a freshman to an out of town game. I was a little nervous being in a small plane; I had only flown once before on a commercial plane. I brought homework to do on the trip and it served as a good distraction until I got sleepy. I thought I would take a little nap, so I closed my eyes and listened to the hum of the motors. All of a sudden, the hum turned into a sputter and we were out of gas! My life flashed before me and I thought well this is it. Little did I know until Claude flipped a switch the plane had a reserve gas tank. The sputter went back to a hum and we continued the flight. Needless to say, I didn’t take that little nap. At the end of the season our trip to the National Tournament in Gallup, New Mexico was another memorable experience. The weather forced our planes to drop below the clouds and we followed train tracks through the mountains. On the way home, the weather was not any better. We landed in Ruidoso and stayed at Claude’s cabin until the weather cleared. Claude was so excited to demonstrate a new kitchen appliance to us. He took a frozen hot dog out of the freezer, put it in the appliance, and set the timer for 60 seconds. When he took it out it was a thoroughly cooked hot dog. He was like a kid showing off a new toy and it was my introduction to a microwave in 1966!
Claude and Wilda were such wonderful people. Their generosity and support of the Queens was unconditional. They were an inspiration to so many players in ways they probably were never really aware. In the early days, players were kids from small communities playing a game they loved, getting a college education to provide a better life and living the dream. They were truly instrumental in making dreams comes true.
The next three years we worked hard to achieve the elusive goal of winning an AAU National Championship. We did however win the first NWIT ever held. The Queens would go on to win the next eight. We made lifelong memories and friendships during this time both on and off the court. Reconnecting with former teammates, suite-mates, and friends for the Flying Queens enshrinement into the Basketball Hall of Fame brought back a time that seemed like yesterday.
Graduation marked the transition into a new time in life’s journey. My degree was in biology and I was looking forward to a career in teaching. Coaching wasn’t in my original plans, but I guess the good Lord had different plans. I was asked to return to my hometown of Trent and coach a team that had been to the state tournament the prior year. Transitioning from player to coach is not as easy as it sounds. It was truly a learning experience for me. Thank goodness I had great players who were just good kids. We returned to the state tournament and that launched a coaching career that spanned 21 years in several school systems.
I left Trent and the next three years in coaching would lead me to Canyon in the panhandle to work with Bob Schneider. Bob was a basketball genius who became a hall of fame legend. Working with him helped me build a foundation that I attribute to any success I had as a coach. I earned my Master’s in Education at West Texas University while coaching in Canyon.
The next eleven years in coaching would take me to Abernathy, Slaton, and Texas Tech. I had great players who were hard working, loved the game and were winners. So many great memories during this time. I was active in the Texas High School Girls Coaches Association and served two terms as president.
My next high school coaching challenge would be in the Cypress Fairbanks ISD coaching at Cy Fair High School for five years. My players were once again super kids and rewarding to coach. After 21 years in a field I really did not intend to pursue, I decided it was time to move into the second field of education that I had not had intentions of pursuing and I became an assistant principal in Cy Fair ISD. I served seven years as an assistant principal and ten years as the principal at Watkins Middle School. My experiences in coaching prepared me for the challenges of being an administrator. I viewed my teachers like I did my players. It was my responsibility to develop their talents and motivate them to achieve their potential. I had great teachers who were dedicated and worked hard to provide a path for students to realize their dreams. We focused on making decisions that were best for kids and not convenient for adults. A testament to their hard work and love for kids was recognized by the Department of Education. Teachers, students, and parents were awarded the highest recognition given at the national level for student achievement. Watkins Middle School was recognized as a National Blue-Ribbon School. This award usually represents a population of students coming from the middle/upper middle socioeconomic culture. The demographics at Watkins reflected 65% of the students were from the low socioeconomic culture. Being selected a Blue-Ribbon School was a testament and validation for the determination of teachers and students to be successful.
I retired in 2008 after serving 38 years as an educator. Although I have been officially retired for the past twelve years, I work three days a week teaching first year teachers. This year marks fifty years in education; what a great journey.
Upon retirement I have been able to spend more time playing golf, fishing, and team roping. At the age of 50, I took on a challenge that allowed me to fulfill a childhood dream of having a horse and riding. However, the journey would be a little more than pleasure riding. I learned to ride a horse while swinging a rope, riding down the arena wide open; eventually taking a hard left to rope the back feet of a running steer. This event is called team roping and I was the person on the heeling side. To be honest when I first started learning this sport, I was terrified. I had to constantly tell myself “fake it until you can make it.” I have fallen off a horse, been fallen on by a horse, and broke my hand when the rope literally exploded in my hand, but I wouldn’t trade the memories and friendships for anything. Along the way I had great heading partners and was able to win several team roping contests with them. I placed third at the National Finals, won the Coors Original Team Roping Association All-Girls event in Abilene, and the Windy Ryon All-Girls event in Saginaw. My partner and I split over $14,000.00 in cash for winning the Windy Ryon. I have to admit that I was a little nervous carrying that much money around in my pocket; it was a wad! In addition to winning a little money, I have also won 5 saddles and numerous buckles. I have had to hang up my rope due to a shoulder injury, but I still enjoy fishing and playing golf as much as possible.
Life has given me wonderful memories of family and friends. Although I have less life in front of me than I do behind me, I feel I have lived enough life for three people. I will always be grateful to the Hutchersons, Coach Redin and Wayland for providing a foundation that has allowed me to meet the demands and challenges of life.
I would encourage current and future Queens to live in the moment and make great memories. Stay true to yourself, as you follow your dreams. Life won’t always go according to your plans but know there is a plan. Queens forever.