Laura Mae Switzer was a Flying Queen from 1959-63. She was born on April 21, 1941, and raised in McLean, Texas. She died on April 19, 2019, in Edmond, Oklahoma. Though the Foundation tried several times to get Laura to submit her story, we were not successful. Perhaps she was too modest to write it or perhaps her battle with cancer consumed too much of her energy. The following glimpses into her amazing life were taken from writings by family members and friends and from the Athletic Archives at Wayland Baptist University and Southwestern Oklahoma State University.
From Dianne Busch, Laura’s long-time friend, we learned about Laura’s family and extended families. Dianne writes:
“Over the years, Laura told many stories about her formative years growing up in west Texas where her dad was a plant manager for gas companies in the area. She and her siblings rode the bus to school daily. She talked about attending church, not only on Sundays, but most Wednesday nights as well. Laura grew up in the Pentecostal Holiness church and was very proud that her grandmother was a minister in the church.
Laura had many stories about growing up in small country towns. She and her siblings were like most siblings, in that she took and followed orders from her ‘big’ sister and they both ‘picked on’ their little brother. The family took frequent trips to the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado. She said that once her dad got behind the wheel and the trip began, there were not very many stops.
Although Laura’s sister, Glenda and her family lived on the west coast, she enjoyed visiting them as often as she could. She was very proud of their accomplishments. Her brother, John was a truck driver and she enjoyed listening to his adventures when they were able to get together.
Laura was generous with her time and resources through the years and spent many holidays and vacations with her ‘extended personal family’ that included Dianne’s parents and siblings Judy, Shirley, and Bill and their families. There were many happy days spent camping, fishing and water skiing at the lake. She enjoyed spending spring breaks in Colorado skiing with the family.
Laura was present at graduations, weddings, Christmases and birthdays -putting up with the chaos of many small children. Judy said, ‘It was always easy to sit and visit with Laura. She had a way of knowing what to talk about with each person she was with.’” (1)
Laura also had a professional family. In addition to her many colleagues throughout the state, she played golf with a group of women known as GOGGA, the “Good Old Girls Golf Association.” Friend and colleague, Virginia Peters expands on the GOGGA story. “Laura loved golf – she played it often; she was a marshal at several professional golf tournaments; she went to the Masters’ once; and she was a very active member of GOGGA. Most of the GOGGAs were teachers and coaches at different colleges and universities in the state. The GOGGAs had a three-day outing each year at Lake Murray where the objectives were golf, fun and fellowship. They stayed in two cabins – one named ‘Menopause Manor’ and the other named ‘Hot Flash Haven.’ When playing golf, the rest of us wore visors. Laura, however, loved wearing stylish hats and coordinated outfits. Many times, she won the ‘Miss Pretty’ award at the GOGGA get-togethers.” (2)
Dianne also introduces us to Laura’s basketball career. She writes: “Laura began using her talents as a basketball player at an early age. She played AAU ball and then went to Wayland Baptist University (Wayland College) on a basketball scholarship to further her education. She often said that without that scholarship college would probably not have been a possibility. She talked about riding in the twin-engine plane to get to competitions. She was very fond of her sponsors, Wilda and Claude Hutcherson and her coach Harley Redin. She told many stories about her playing experiences in Russia, Sweden and the Pan American Games. Laura had a special bond with her teammates and has kept in touch with many of them through the years. She would have loved to attend the induction of the Flying Queens teams of 1948-1982 into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this September.” (1)
To give a more complete picture about Laura’s days as a Wayland Hutcherson Flying Queen, we turn to an article published by Wayland in 2010 when Laura was inducted into the WBU Athletics Hall of Honor. The article said this about Dr. Switzer:
“During the four years that Laura Switzer played basketball at Wayland Baptist College, the Hutcherson Flying Queens accumulated an overall win/loss record of 90-12, won one AAU Championship and finished as the runner-up three times. The 6-foot-1 post from McLean won AAU All-American honors three times and became the first-ever member of the Queens to earn most valuable player honors at the AAU National Tournament.
Switzer’s sophomore season, her first as a full-time member of the Flying Queens, was one to remember. The team won the 1960-61 National Girls Basketball League (NGBL) title and the 1961 AAU Championship with a 24-2 record, and Switzer was named the AAU tournament’s MVP. The team’s second-leading scorer with 292 points, she earned AAU All-American honors and was selected as a NGBL All-Star.
Following the national championship, Switzer and six of her teammates, along with Coach Harley Redin, formed the nucleus of a United States All-Star team that travelled to Russia for a four-week basketball tour sponsored by the State Department.
The 1961-62 Flying Queens won the NGBL championship but struggled in the quarterfinals of the AAU Championship Tournament against the Omaha Extension Comets. Trailing 33-31 in the very last seconds, Switzer hit one of her patented hook shots to tie the game and force overtime. The Queens eventually won the contest, 36-35, and got by Iowa Wesleyan in the semifinals, but fell short of their second straight AAU title with a loss to Nashville Business College in the championship game. Switzer, the team’s tallest player and scoring leader with 261 points, earned her second AAU All-American honor and captured the AAU National Free Throw Championship for the second time.
Switzer wrapped up her career in 1963 with 748 career points, won her third national free throw championship and earned yet another AAU All-American designation, becoming one of five Flying Queens to earn the honor three times. The Queens ended the season with a record of 21-4 and a second-place finish in the national tournament.
Following the season, Switzer and two teammates were selected to represent the U.S. at the 1963 Pan American games in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The U.S. brought home the gold medal with a 59-43 win over the host team from Brazil.” (3)
Laura graduated from Wayland in July of 1963 with a B.S. degree. She majored in physical education and minored in mathematics. That fall, she began her teaching career in Fritch, Texas. She taught mathematics and coached junior and senior high boys and girls in basketball, track, tennis, and volleyball. After teaching and coaching two years in the Sanford-Fritch school district, Laura took a job at Southwestern Oklahoma State University where she was the head women’s basketball coach from 1965-1980. Laura completed her M.Ed. from Southwestern in 1966 and received her Ed.D. from the University of Oklahoma in 1972. In addition to teaching physical education and coaching at Southwestern, Laura served as Director of Women’s Intramural Sports and Coordinator of the Women’s Athletic (5, 6)
Laura’s days at Southwestern were described in an article that was written in 2011 when she was inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame at Southwestern Oklahoma State University. The article stated that:
“Dr. Laura Switzer found ways to help in the growth and the development of women’s athletics during the years in which women’s sports were just beginning to come into their own. Switzer was recognized as a Pioneer both nationally and locally for her efforts during her 36-year tenure at SWOSU that ended with her retirement in 2001.
Switzer taught a full course load as a professor for the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation while successfully juggling her role as Women’s Athletics Coordinator. She would oversee more than 200 women who would annually take part in the sports of basketball, volleyball, field hockey, tennis, track and field, softball and badminton. Switzer would transport teams, often in her own car, to competitions across the state under the governance of the OAIAW, AIAW and later the NAIA.
Switzer helped coach many young women who went on to make lengthy and successful careers as coaches or college administrators such as SWOSU Hall of Famer Debbie Bruner, Southeastern HPER Department Chair Vicki Hudson and SWOSU’s own Vicki Hatton, Chair of the Kinesiology Department.
‘Dr. Switzer wanted us to have every opportunity to enjoy and learn from our athletic experiences,’ Hudson said. ‘She gave of her time, energy, effort, and finances to prepare us to represent ourselves and Southwestern in the best possible manner.’” (4)
Dr. Laura Switzer served her profession with integrity, honesty and perseverance. She was held in highest regard by her professional colleagues as these additional comments will show:
According to Dr. Joanna Hibler, President Emeritus of Southwestern, “She had a sound philosophy of women’s athletics; she was a real role model for our female athletes; and she was a good campus and community citizen who was always interested, involved and willing to help. She was a true ambassador for her university.” (2)
Dr. Virginia L. Peters, Professor Emeritus from the University of Central Oklahoma, noted that “Laura represented Oklahoma at several national conferences on the activation of Title IX for women’s athletics. [And in that regard] she fought for more than the right to play a game. She fought for what was right. She was active in the development of governing associations for women’s intercollegiate sports including OARFCW, OAIAW, AIAW, NAIA and NAGWS.” (2)
Dr. Peters also related that “Laura had a special place in her heart for her Delta Kappa Gamma sisters [Leading Women Educators Impacting Education Worldwide].” She noted that Laura “had a unique ability to motivate and challenge, [that] she was an inspiration to students, players and professional colleagues, [and that] she opened doors for many to go on to successful careers in teaching, coaching and administration.” (2)
Dr. Donna Cobb, Associate Dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies at the University of Central Oklahoma commented, “I learned from her that you do not have to dominate a conversation or a meeting to have influence with decisions, etc. When Laura offered her opinions or advice, others listened and took notice.” (2)
On a lighter side: Kelly Litsch, a former assistant basketball coach and physical education teacher at Southwestern, related these memories of Dr. Switzer: “She always had time for me. I loved her dry sense of humor and I laughed every time I saw the sign on her office wall that said, ‘Mondays are a hell of a way to spend one seventh of your life.’”
George Hauser, a former men’s basketball coach at Southwestern had this to say about Laura’s basketball abilities. “I don’t know about the longevity of the hook shot, but the free throw ability was apparently retained for many years. One time [I] challenged Laura to a free throw shooting contest. That was a major mistake. She smoked me!” Another faculty colleague said, “I never heard Laura use a cuss work or bad language. However, I did, on occasion see her adjust her glasses using a certain hand signal.” (2)
National and state associations also recognized Dr. Switzer’s work. In 1994, the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport honored her with their “Pathfinder” Award and in 1995, the Oklahoma Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance acknowledged Laura’s work with the OAHPERD “Honor Award.” (2)
Moving from Dr. Switzer the professional to Laura as a person and a friend, Virginia Peters noted that “one of the ways to know and understand a person is by looking at some of the things that they loved. Laura loved family, jewelry, cars (especially her Cadillac), lighthouses, the great outdoors, the color purple, watching all sports, cooking, dancing, golfing, and travelling. On the flip side Laura hated housework and was a technology dinosaur. No computer, no e-mail, no cell phone, no texting and no desire to do any of that. She was a depression baby who wanted to save everything because she might need it again. She only moved twice after college and Dianne said that Laura still had everything that she had accumulated during all those years.” (2)
Virginia also “asked fifteen fellow professionals to give [her] three words that described Laura.
They came up with an entire alphabet of positive personality traits. The words used most often by the most people were quiet, gracious, kind, honest, strong, brave, great smile, sense of humor and a real friend. Willa Faye Mason, professor emeritus and former women’s basketball coach at Oklahoma’s Northeastern State University said: ‘She was always glad to see you with a smile on her face. She was always concerned and interested in the things going on in your life. She loved the game of basketball and knew that we did too. She was truly a professional teacher in every way.’” (2)
Laura was a lover of the game of basketball—a game at which she excelled and helped others experience and excel. She was a true teacher in life— also a teacher in the way she faced death. Virginia noted, “Watching her push through pain and discomfort was a powerful lesson for the rest of us. Her parting example of courage leaves an indelible mark in our minds. She was truly a blessing in our lives.” (2) Dianne commented, “In battling cancer for eight months, Laura was a fierce fighter, she was unwilling to give up. Laura could say honestly – ‘I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.’” 2 Timothy 4:7 ESV (1)
Editor’s note: While acknowledging the sources below, I would particularly like to thank Dr. Virginia Peters for helping me gather the information for this post. Sincerely, Sylvia Nadler
- Dianne Busch: ‘Remembering Laura.’
- Dr. Virginia L. Peters, Professor Emeritus from the University of Central Oklahoma: ‘Eulogy for Laura,’ delivered on April 27, 2019.
- Obituary (long): Laura Mae Switzer, April 21, 1941-April 19, 2017
- Resume of Laura Switzer