Flying Queen


Katherine Washington was a Flying Queen from 1957-1960. Her story is interesting and unusual because she had a very unconventional path to becoming a Flying Queen.

Sadly, we failed to capture her story before she had a massive stroke from which she failed to recover. Katherine, known to her friends and teammates as Kate or “Wash,” died on September 19, 2019 and was buried September 28, 2019. She was 86 years old. This story, constructed from many sources, is our tribute to “Wash.”

Katherine was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to the late Francis and Mary Nell Koester Washington. Childhood friend, John Bridges recalls that “In her pre-teen days, Katherine lived in Nashville but stayed with her mother and siblings in a cabin on the Springfield plantation. My house was two farms over within easy bike or walking distance. . . Since ‘Big Kate’ was about my age, we also became ‘summertime friends.’ She was a ton of fun as we went swimming at the ‘Knee-Bend’ swimming hole, played army games and engaged in all kinds of outside activities. In anything competitive, I always came in a distant second. Even today, it puts a smile on my face when I think about those summer days with my best friend Katherine.” [1]

Another friend, Lane Carlton Zatopek, describes Katherine as a teenager. “Katherine stayed with my family in Murfreesboro while undergoing treatment for injuries suffered in an auto accident as a teenager. My mother (Alice Washington Carlton) was Kate’s first cousin and we lived just up the street from Rutherford County Hospital, as it was then. I thought Kate was awesome! Her basketball skills were already setting her apart back then.” [1]

Katherine attended Central High School where she lettered in basketball all four years. Her senior year she went to the AAU national tournament with NBC (Nashville Business College). She graduated in 1952 and then attended Martin Junior College in Pulaski, Tennessee, for two years. During that time, she continued to play with NBC. She was named an All-American and made the United States national team. [1]

As a member of the USA team, Katherine played in the first World Championship for women held in March of 1953. “This event, held in Santiago, Chile, was the first major international tournament for women. The team sent by the USA was composed largely of players from the Nashville Business College, including the coach John L. Head. Washington was one of the seven NBC players on the team, as well as the youngest at the age of 20. Traveling in South America was an adventure at the time. The team visited Panama and Cuba on their way to Chile and played a scrimmage against the Cuban national team. There were plans to visit Ecuador and Nicaragua, but the visit was cancelled due to riots. Fans occasionally threw rocks at the players, and some of the bench players had to find refuge under the stand. When a player for the host team, Chile, fouled out during the third quarter, the game had to be temporarily stopped due to demonstrations by the 30,000 fans in attendance.

“With no international experience, it wasn’t clear how well the USA team was expected to compete. While the team lost an early round game to Brazil, they won the remaining games, including the gold medal game against Chile 49–36, to claim the gold medal, and the first World Championship.” [2]

Katherine made the USA national team again in 1957 for the World Championships which were held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The team was more balanced this time. There were four NBC players, including Nera White, but there were eight other players from five other teams, [2] including Wayland seniors, Cookie Barron and Rita Alexander. [3]

The USA team “lost a close game to Czechoslovakia in preliminary play, 53–50, but would avenge the game in a rematch later in the tournament. Overall, the team had eight wins against the single loss. The USA team played USSR in the title game, representing the first time these two teams played each other. The USSR led most of the game, but the USA team came back late and took the lead. The USA emerged victorious, winning the game 51–48, and earning the gold medal, and the title of World Champion. [2] Cookie Barron, Flying Queen 1954-57, said that beating the Russians in the finals before 35,000 fans was one of the great memories of her basketball career. [4]

Washington played for NBC from 1952-1957. During this period the Flying Queens dominated AAU Basketball finishing AAU Runners-Up twice and AAU National Champions four times. According to Ikard, in his book Just for Fun, Washington tried out for the Queens after her junior college days but “was rejected by Wayland after a tryout, taught school for a year, went back to NBC for a couple of years, then after a second audition was finally given a Wayland scholarship.” [5]

Katherine arrived on the Wayland campus in the fall of 1957. Teammate Belva Ramsey Stokes states: “Wash and I were roommates her first semester at Wayland.  Coming to Wayland was a new experience for her. [There had been a three-year gap between her Junior College days and her arrival at Wayland and “Wash” wasn’t used to dorm life.] Her personality was such that she was willing to interact with people, thereby making many new friends early in her stay at Wayland. The most significant memory I have of Wash is that during her first semester, she accepted Christ as her Savior.  Her approach had been that being a Christian was an ongoing process that hopefully had a good ending, rather than an individual experience that resulted in an immediate impact on her life.” [6]

Katherine’s first year on the Queens was a disappointing one in that NBC, Washington’s former team upset the Queens, 46-42, in the semifinal game of the National AAU Tournament ending the Queens 131 winning streak and sending the four times National Champions home with the third-place trophy. Thus, the three-time All-American from Nashville, who transferred to Wayland to “join ‘em” because she couldn’t “beat ‘em” was again on the losing side However, “Wash” was named All-American for the 4th time. Washington and Kaye Garms were selected
for a USA All-Star team that was to tour the Soviet Union and play the Russian All-Stars. [3]

The 1958-59 season saw the Wayland Hutcherson Flying Queens off to Mexico where they played a five-game series using international rules. When they returned, the regular season moved into full swing. Workouts were intense as the Queens prepared to re-establish themselves as the number one team in women’s basketball. (3) Two teammates give us a glimpse into those practices and to Katherine.

Patsy Neal recalls, “ ‘Wash’ was a real character, and a pleasure to be around and to have as a teammate. ‘Wash’ was not only a great basketball player, but she had a wonderful sense of humor, and never missed a chance to enjoy her athletic competition. For instance, one time, she left the dressing room for practice with practically every part of her body wrapped in tape.  She said she didn’t want to sprain anything during our workout.” [7]

Margaret Odom Parks echoed that sentiment stating, “ ‘Wash’ was a ‘fun’ person and a great teammate!  She was really quick-handed and fast on her feet.  My favorite thing that she used to do is when workouts got really exhausting toward the end of the session, when we would practice the ‘fast break,’ she would take off down the court at full speed making the Roadrunner ‘BEEP-BEEP- BEEP-BEEP.’ That would just crack us all up!!!” [8]

Evidently Katherine’s Roadrunner gig extended beyond practice. Patsy Neal commented.
“I remember one game when ‘Wash’ was flying down the court with the ball, when an opponent stole the ball.  Instead of stopping immediately and reversing her direction, ‘Wash’ made a huge half-circle on the court and yelled out ‘Beep, Beep!’ with a big grin on her face.
Coach had to call a time-out to settle the team down because we were all breaking up with laughter after seeing the Roadrunner in action.” [7]

The Queens beat Nashville twice during the regular season. In the 1958-59 National AAU Tournament, it was the Wayland Hutcherson Flying Queens and Nashville Business College, once again, vying for the title. The Queens, a come from behind team all year, lived up to their role in the finals of the tournament. Down 13-8 at halftime, the Queens exploded for nine points in the first three minutes of the third quarter and allowed Nashville none. From that point on the Queens led all the way, downing Nashville Business College by a score of 43-37. [3]

The Wayland Hutcherson Flying Queens had won a fifth national AAU title, and many observers attributed win number five to the Queens’ tremendous defense. Sports writers also gave Katherine Washington much of the credit for the Queens’ success. “ ’Wash,’ determined not to be on the losing side again, time after time, provided the spark necessary to give the Queens victory.” In addition to being on the number one team, Washington was named to the All-American squad for the fifth time and was inducted into the women’s AAU basketball Helms Hall of Fame along with her former teammate from Nashville, Nera White. [3]

At the end of the season, seven members of the Flying Queens (Joyce Kite, Carla Lowry, Carolyn Miller, Mona Poff, Patsy Neal, Marsha Scoggin, and Katherine Washington) were selected to represent the United States in the Pan-American games, and Coach Redin was selected to coach the team. In August, the Queens left for Chicago, where they practiced with other team members for 10 days prior to the opening of the games. Five nations (Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Canada, and United States) were represented at the games. A double round-robin was played and for the second consecutive time, the United States coached and dominated by Queen personnel, went undefeated to win the Pan-American games. [3] “Washington averaged 4.8 points per game.” [2]

The close of the Pan-American games brought the beginning of the 1959-60 season. The Queens continue to devote much of their attention to international rules because Coach Redin was chosen as the head coach of the team that was scheduled to play a six-game series against the squad from Russia in December 1959. The nucleus of the United States team was composed of Katherine Washington and Carolyn Miller of Wayland, Glenda Nicholson and Rita Horkey of Iowa Wesley, and Nera White and John Crawford of Nashville business college. The remainder of the team varied depending upon location. In New York, Lawrence, and Seattle, six other members of the Wayland Hutcherson Flying Queens filled out the roster. The first game of the series, played in Madison Square Garden, was a close contest with no more than five points ever separating the two teams. The Russians, leading 22-19 at halftime, managed to maintain a two-point margin to win the first contest, 42-40. This game is of great significance because it was the first women’s basketball game played in Madison Square Garden and eight Flying Queens, including Washington were on the roster. [3]

In 1960, Katherine’s senior year, Wayland was seeded first in the National AAU Tournament and breezed into the finals by defeating four teams with a minimum victory margin of fifteen points. Nashville did the same, and the perennial powers were in the finals once again. Nashville’s Nera White scored 19 points in the first half leading NBC to a one-sided 48-29 over the Queens. The Queens placed Miller, Neal, and Washington on the All-American team. [3]

Washington, a six-time AAU All-American and one of the era’s greatest AAU players, graduated from Wayland in 1960 and according to Ikard was 26 years old. [5] She earned a Master’s of Education degree from the University of Houston. [1]

Linda Tucker, Flying Queen 1965-69, describes her friend and colleague: “Katherine ‘Wash’ Washington was certainly one of a kind and a very unique person. She grew up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and attended Central High School in Murfreesboro. I grew up about ten miles away in a rural community called Rockvale, Tennessee. ‘Wash’ was a local hero in the athletic community. I remember talking to her when I decided to attend Wayland. She played with the Flying Queens and I was in awe of all her achievements at Wayland.

“During the summers, after I attended Wayland, I went back to my home in Tennessee and played on a softball team comprised of several NBC (Nashville Business College) women’s basketball players. Katherine Washington was a member of this team. Just like in basketball, ‘Wash’ was an outstanding softball player and a great competitor. She held herself, as well as her teammates, to the highest of standards.

“Little did I know we would end up teaching together at Pearland Jr. High in Pearland, TX. ‘Wash’ had retired from coaching but remained on the staff as a physical education/history teacher. She was a fun person to work with but put up with no nonsense and was a strong disciplinarian. Her students loved her.

“Although ‘Wash’ had given up coaching, she still loved the game, and wanted to see her students play. So, she decided to drive the school bus to away games for the girls’ basketball team. I remember my first road trip with ‘Wash’ as our bus driver. I had a stomach virus and “Wash” detected I was in no shape to coach. She stepped up to the plate and coached the team. I don’t remember if we won or lost the game, but with Katherine Washington in charge, I’m sure we had our first road win. ‘Wash’ was the kind of person everyone would want in their fox hole.

“‘Wash’ loved to play golf. After retirement she moved back to Tennessee and continued using her athletic ability on the golf course. She and her golfing buddies played tournaments all over the state of Tennessee and in several out of state tournaments. She lived a great life doing what she loved. Katherine Washington was one of the finest people, in all respects, that anyone would ever know. I was blessed to have her as a friend!” [9]
According to her obituary, “Katherine [was] inducted into the National Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame [in 2000]. She taught physical education in Pearland, TX for nearly 30 years. [She] had a lifelong love of sports and continued to be a fierce competitor, playing in many golf tournaments throughout the Middle Tennessee area. She played her final round of golf on Thursday, September 5 at Smyrna Golf Course.” Golfing buddy, Kay Ward stated, “I was proud to call Kate my friend. Her competitive spirit always provided fun and laughter on the golf course.” Another friend, Sheila Davenport, stated that Kate was “a lady who truly loved her friends and demonstrated this in so many ways.” Perhaps the best tribute of all come from her friend Vanessa Coe, “Kate was a unique individual with a bold spirit and a huge heart. She played to win! She was loved, admired, and will be missed, by so many. ❤”

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