Like many other teammates, I grew up in a rural farming community. Elgin Oklahoma is northeast of Lawton Oklahoma. My parents made their home in Elgin to give us qualities that small communities have; smaller numbers of students/teachers, good values, and a close community that cares for each other.
As young professionals, my mother was a registered nurse and my father is a retired architect/structural engineer, who both put in long hard hours to make ends meet and raise five children. I am the second oldest. I learned great discipline and work ethics from my grandparents as well as my parents. We enjoyed many special things in life because of our hard work. I cherish the love, discipline, and support that I received from my mother and father.
Crafting my game with rusty nets
Elgin had two main sports for most of my years in school: basketball and softball/baseball. I remember in second grade spending every recess trying to throw that heavy big basketball up towards the chain net baskets on the gravel court. My other favorite pastime was attempting to cross the monkey bars without falling off. Mr. Bracken was our grade school principle and taught gym class. We were only able to try out for the grade school basketball team in fifth and sixth grades. All those recesses paid off, and I was never prouder to receive my silky red and white team suit in fifth grade.
By junior high, Coaches Delbert Swanny and “Dub” Woolbright came into my life and began to teach me the finer details of the game. They also encouraged every player on our team to attend summer basketball camp at Lindsey Oklahoma. This would be the first of many summer camp trips for many of us girls. Coach Charles Heatly organized and ran a great summer program, The Lindsey All-Star Basketball Camp. Most of the top coaches in the state came to teach, along with college basketball players out for the summer break. This is where I first heard of the Flying Queens and met several outstanding players; Cherri Rapp, Tina Slinker and Janice Beach. My new idols! After lunch they would give pep talks and tell stories of their travels and games in college. I knew then that I had to be a Flying Queen.
The Queens come calling!
I had a successful career at Elgin High School as a forward playing six-on-six, half-court basketball. Our team made it into the area playoffs each year and my junior year we went into the quarter finals of the state playoffs. Unfortunately, I began my senior year with a ruptured ovarian cyst and couldn’t play for several weeks after the surgery. I was able to complete my senior year as an All State West player. I had a former teammate from Elgin who was playing at a junior college, Murry State College in Tishomingo Oklahoma. Thinking I would like to play with my former teammate, I signed a letter of intent with this program. Not long after that signing, I receive a phone call from Shena Cooper. As Coach Weese’s assistant coach, she invited me for a weekend visit to try out for Wayland Baptist College.
Now, to say I was very shy is an understatement. All my high school days I dreamed of being a Flying Queen. My entire family, excited of the prospect of my playing for Wayland, loaded into a van and drove about five hours to Plainview Texas. When we arrived, I refused to get out. My whole family went into the gym without me. The next thing I knew, sweet Sheena was there to say “hi” and coaxed me to come into the gym. I was terrified! I met the other players trying out and got to shoot the basketball around a bit. By the end of the weekend, I was offered a partial scholarship to Wayland, and I never looked back!
Learning to adjust to my early college year experience
I first arrived in what would be the final freshman class that Coach Weese coached, prior to leaving Wayland and accepting his professional coaching position with the Dallas Diamonds. My freshman recruiting class consisted of five outstanding Oklahoma players: Jodie Swart, Kelly Braisher, Vanessa Welch, Jo Tesuta, and myself. We had all been recognized on the 1978 Oklahoma “All State Team” and were excited to become part of such a historical and powerhouse college team.
During my freshman year I remember what seemed like low points at the time, slime week and basketball freshman initiation. Some of those days were hard as I grew in experience and learned that college was different. Beyond the stress of being a freshman in college, those of us from Oklahoma were adjusting to five-on-five play (full court) vs. the six-on-six half court game. Little side note, Oklahoma played its last six-man game in March 1995. Coach Weese encouraged and taught me how to shoot the ball more effectively by not hyper extending my wrist while shooting. Workouts with Coach Weese and these awesome seasoned players, my new teammates, were incredibly challenging and stressful, but deep inside I loved it!
1982, a defining year for the AIAW division
Coach Cathy Wilson was hired the summer between my freshman and sophomore year. Through graduating seniors and other upper classmen leaving for other universities, we lost several key players. Coach Wilson, in her first year, stepped into an exceedingly difficult position to say the least. I was too young and naive to really understand what she had taken on as the head women’s coach at Wayland. She worked awfully hard to reconstruct a new team. Thinking back, I admire Coach Wilson even more to this day for the unseen challenges that she encountere by stepping into this position. Just as Coach Weese helped to make my shooting much more effective, Coach Wilson helped me to understand the game of basketball and defense.
Two years of recruiting and hard work paid off for us all. In 1982, under Coach Wilson’s leadership, the Flying Queens defeated Montana University and California Berkeley to advance into the Final Four of the AIAW (Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) Div. I National Basketball Championship Tournament in Philadelphia, Pa. The final four teams were Wayland Baptist, University of Texas, Rutgers University and Villanova. Unfortunately, the Queens lost to the University of Texas in our fifth meeting of 1981-1982 season. Rutgers University would go on to defeat Texas and win the final AIAW National Championship.
The 1982 season was a defining moment in women’s collegiate basketball. The AIAW was disbanding after 10 years. The NCAA added women’s sports to their areas of oversight, so there were two national championships played in 1982. Tennessee, Louisiana Tech, Cheyney and Maryland met in the first NCAA women’s final four, with Louisiana Tech defeating Cheyney for the first NCAA Div. I Championship.
After graduating from Wayland Baptist College, I felt a huge emptiness or incompletion. As a young kid, I saw a great movie on TV about Babe Didrikson Zaharias. She was a 1932 two-time gold medal winner in track and field. She later joined the professional golfing circuit, winning 10 LPGA championships. I realized for me to feel complete about my career in basketball, I needed to try out for the USA Olympic team. My dear upper classmate, who was then coaching collegiately, Valerie Goodwin, helped me apply for the open invitation in Colorado Springs for the 1983 United States Pan American team. If you made the Pan American team, you were mostly likely chosen for the 1984 USA Olympic team.
What a cool experience but again very overwhelming. I had a great time rooming with a player from North Carolina. We were there for about a week. There were so many famous athletes there from every sport, one of whom was Michael Jordan. I tried out as a point guard but sadly did not make the first of three cuts. Great players let me tell you.
Working as an Assistant college basketball coach
The Pan American trials ended, and I had no idea what to do with my Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. Valerie Goodwin had just been hired as the head women’s basketball coach at Southwest Missouri State, now Missouri State University. She offered me an assistant coaching position. What another unbelievable experience! I worked with her for one year and during that time; Valerie taught me the basics of recruiting, coaching and the most important quality, professionalism. What a class act! I am proud to say that the initial freshman class we recruited were the seniors that took Southwest Missouri State to the 1992 NCAA women’s final four. After my year of coaching I retired from basketball and attended dental hygiene school at the University of Missouri- Kansas City. This move paved the way for a successful and rewarding career in dental hygiene for 30 years.
Dedication to a Flying Queen- Kelly Braisher
Kelly Braisher and I were the only two remaining senior players of our recruiting class to graduate and play all four seasons at Wayland Baptist College. I would like to honor her with a final word.
Kelly’s ‘cool blue eyes were a great cover for one of the most passionate and competitive individuals I have ever met. She had FIRE in her soul. She exuded drive and determination whenever she was on the court. This drive and deep passion were one of our secret weapons against opposing teams. Kelly was only 5’11”, a six-on-six half court guard in high school from Oklahoma, which meant she had to learn how to shoot a basketball and play offense. She played a post forward position at Wayland. Her leadership was invaluable in helping lead our team into many game victories. Sadly, at age 30, Kelly died of cancer. She was a very dear friend of mine and I now understand what a treasure it was to have been involved with such a great group of people at Wayland Baptist Flying Queens. Those college days contributed to my values and mental fortitude that I still have to this day. I am a Hutcherson Flying Queen.