I am Gayle Loughridge and I played for the Flying Queens from 1975-1977.
I was born and raised in Marlow, Oklahoma a small town in the Southern part of the state. The first few years of my life were spent in a farmhouse across the road from my grandparents’ farm. We did not have indoor plumbing except for a hand pump in the kitchen. My mom had three kids. I was the youngest. My mother for the most part was all alone in raising us, in that my father was a truck driver and would be gone for days at a time. We eventually moved to town and had indoor plumbing and a bathtub instead of just a tub in the kitchen.
By then, there were five of us kids. I was in the middle. Our neighborhood was full of kids and most of us, after chores, were outside playing football, running through fields, or making up competitive games. That is until the third grade when I was introduced to basketball. I was a pretty quiet person growing up but playing basketball pulled me out of shyness when I stepped on the court. Girls at the time played three on three, but I played with the boys during recess because I liked defense and scoring. I could hold my own with the boys in jumping, running, and shooting until my high school years when they began surpassing me. Clarese Barnett was my coach off and on from elementary to middle school. She was a teacher, coach, and mentor to me.
Growing up I had a lot of opportunities for new experiences.
At age 13, I wanted tennis shoes and other kinds sports equipment but knew that, if I were to get them, I would have to figure out how on my own. There was a little fruit and vegetable stand between Marlow and Rush Springs named Dorian’s that needed tomatoes. So, I planted about half an acre of tomatoes and sold them to Dorian’s. This took care of my equipment needs, plus I took some of the profit and bought about ten sheep to raise and show. After school I would ride my bicycle three and a half miles to take care of my animals at the farm and three and a half miles back to town. I was in 4-H with my sheep and calves. I was also FFA sweetheart, whose job requirements were to show up to the FFA meetings with cookies and refreshments.
We were a rodeo family and had an arena at the farm where on weekends people would come out and rope, ride bulls, and run barrels and poles. Running barrels was my event, along with riding bulls. Bull riding was really an adrenaline rush. I was also a runner for the ribbon roping event. I used my riding skills as one of the Marlow Outlaw Football mascots as I rode my horse across the football field in front of the football team.
In junior high and high school, I trained for and played every sport that was offered— basketball, track, volleyball, and competitive softball. In high school most of my activities took a backseat to basketball. Basketball was now my passion. I practiced every day at the elementary school playground, three blocks from my house. Then I talked my mom and dad into having a cement patio poured outside the back door with a pole and goal attached. I took it upon myself to paint a free throw line and lane in red on that patio. I practiced on that court every day. I put myself in game situations and in my head and sank game winning free throws. I practiced my dribbling skills to music on a little transistor radio. A few decades later, I returned to Marlow for a visit. I drove by the home where I was reared and noticed that the basketball pole and goal were still standing. On main street and in local stores, I met and visited with older people who had lived in the area of my childhood home. They commented on how they used to hear me dribbling and bouncing the ball off that metal back board until late in the evening. They also reminisced about going to basketball games and watching our team play.
Ranching/farming families never went on vacations. The only time we ever left Marlow was when mom took us 5 kids to Wichita Falls, Texas to have our eyes checked. Those doctors’ appointments and away basketball games were about extent of my travels. That was until I talked my mom into letting me attend basketball camp in Sayre, Oklahoma and the Charles Heatley basketball camp in Lindsay, Oklahoma. I attended each for three years.
It was an eye opener to see just how many girls played basketball. Charles Heatley even talked to my father about moving the family to Lindsay, but my father did not think that would be good for our family. Through those camps, I met some of the best coaches in Oklahoma and they greatly influenced my playing skills. I soaked up every bit of information I could and stayed on the court at lunch break and after sessions to practice those skills. The coaches must have thought I had some potential because they would also stay late to help me improve my game, especially my jump shot.
I also watched pro and college guys play on television. I assessed their shots and emulated their shooting styles. Every time I practiced shooting, I would have three words in my mind: “jump, hang, shoot.” After many hours I had my jump shot down. I also worked on my running and jumping ability every day. I jumped to touch the tops of doors at home and school; I used hay bales for Plyometrics; I ran in six-inch deep plowed ground; and I also wore out lots of jump ropes. One of my goals was to be able to touch the rim because if I could jump high, I could compete with players taller than me.
When I entered high school, I was a freshman playing with juniors and seniors. Even though I had played competitive basketball since the 3rd grade, they would give me a difficult time because I was an underclassman. However, after a few practices I earned their respect at playing the game and they had quit trying to intimidate me.
During high school, my team traveled to Lindsay, Oklahoma to see the All-American Red Heads, a female version of the Harlem Globetrotters. Our team got to ask questions of the Red Heads. We discovered that there were basketball opportunities after high school, and that college scholarships were available if you were good enough. I went home that night excited to practice some of the skills I saw performed by the Red Heads and with thoughts of going to college.
If I wanted to go to college and play basketball, I knew I needed to save money and perfect my skills. My father did not believe women should go to college, so I knew that “if it was to be, it was up to me.” Thus, at age fourteen, I got a job in a Western store, I practiced with the guys basketball team after the girls’ practice was over, and then went I home and practiced some more. I would play anyone who would take the time to play. I even talked my mom into playing and she was a tough one. She was (and is) also my biggest supporter. She attended all my high school games and made sure she was there early to braid my hair. She was the only one who could braid it right. She would also sit in the stands and, if I ever missed a shot, at a timeout she would be going through the motions of following through. I don’t think she ever missed a game.
During my junior year in high school I injured both knees and both required surgery. The surgeon only wanted to do one at a time, but I insisted on both being done at the same time because I did not want to miss my senior year of basketball. Recovery was difficult, but I made it back for my senior year of basketball as strong as ever. I was high point scorer my senior year.
As you can probably tell, basketball dominated my mind and life and was my reason for going to school. In high school, I maintained the highest scoring average and held my own in the area of rebounding. One home game I scored 61 points. I made All Area, All Conference, and All State. I played in the Oklahoma East-West game, the first girls’ game to be broadcast by radio, and in the Texas Oklahoma All Star game. A special moment for me occurred a few hours before the All State game. My mother came early to Lindsay, Oklahoma and said she had something for me. She had purchased blue suede low top converse tennis shoes and surprised me with them. I had been wanting them forever having played all those years before in the basic converse chuck tennis shoe.
High school basketball was the most memorable thing in my life up to that point. The support I received from the community, family and my two mentors, Clarese Barnett and Lynn Harmeyer, was amazing and the lessons I learned from these two people continues to influence my life. From them, I learned a strong work ethic and a never give up attitude.
Because my basketball awards and honors, I received letters from various universities and colleges. But I wanted to go to Wayland Baptist University and play for the Flying Queens. I had heard about them and read about them and that’s where I wanted to go. My mother visited with the various college coaches, but since no one in my family had any experience with college, Mom wanted me to go closer to home. She chose Murray State College in Tishomingo, Oklahoma.
I had a great experience at Murray State. In addition to our regular season, we toured and played in various coliseums throughout Mexico. However, my heart and soul were still intent on playing for the Wayland Baptist Hutcherson Flying Queens. After my sophomore year. I was on top of the world when I was asked to come to Plainview, Texas and play for the Flying Queens.
The practices were hard but the strong work ethic I developed in high school payed off. It was a learning experience for this small-town girl. I had never been on a plane before and that was an experience I will never forget. Playing in the various venues throughout the country was educational and made a great impact me and hence my future. The Flying Queens had class, a rich history, and a winning tradition. There were many strong women role models who had paved the way for women’s basketball.
After graduation from Wayland Baptist, I applied for various teaching positions in Texas. During that time frame, a former Flying Queen, Alice “Cookie” Barron (1954-57), was recruiting women to move to Colorado to help get women’s sports off the ground. Wayland’s coach gave her my name. I had never been to Colorado and was scared, but I packed everything I owned into a Chevy Malibu and drove to Denver, Colorado. I taught and coached basketball and volleyball at Columbine High School and Gateway High School for forty years. The strong work ethic, the perseverance, and the dedication I learned playing for the Flying Queens continued to influence my life. I pursued degrees in higher education, obtaining a Masters’ Degree in Educational Administration and a Doctorate in Supervision and Evaluation. I also played competitive basketball until I had to have a knee replacement at the age of 54.
My biggest accomplishment is raising my children to adulthood. In 1992, I decided to adopt a child. Because I am 1/8 Choctaw, I was eventually able to adopt two newborns, both Native Americans. On October 4, 1992, Chaska JaKoby Sky Loughridge became part of my life. On April 30, 1994, Mato` Ty Garrett Loughridge, who now goes by Nika, was born and became part of our family. JaKoby’s heritage is the Sisseton Wapheton Tribe. Nika is of Crow-Creek-Sioux descent. As a family we had great fun, riding horses, fishing, hunting, and tracking animals. We also enjoyed showing animals in 4-H. Both have grown into fine young adults and I am so proud of them. My only regret is that the years flew by and they grew up so fast . . . then, they left the nest.
After retiring from teaching in Colorado I returned to my home state of Oklahoma because my mother, my brothers and sisters, and most of my extended family still live in Oklahoma. I taught school in Oklahoma for a few years and then I helped my younger sister take care of her horses. It was a dream come true to be around horses again. But that dream job came to an end recently when I had to have my right knee replaced again for the fourth time. But I will persevere, and I will be back to the horses again.
Being a Flying Queen and a graduate of Wayland Baptist University has opened many doors of opportunities for me. I stood on the shoulders of many strong women who paved the way for the advancement of women’s basketball. I stand with many more women who preserved the history, extended the legacy, and helped make women’s basketball the respected game it is today. It is an honor to be placed in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame along with each and every one of these women.