Mary Williams could be considered the Jackie Robinson of Wayland Baptist Flying Queens basketball. According to longtime head coach Harley Redin, in 1969 Williams became the first black student-athlete to play for the Flying Queens. Not only did she break the color barrier of one of the most storied sports programs in the nation, Williams’ success both on and off the court helped pave the way for other women of color to become Flying Queens.
“At the time, I had no idea that I was the first person of color to ever play for the Queens. I hadn’t really thought about that. I just knew I loved basketball and was given a scholarship to do what I loved,” Williams said. “I had pretty much always been ‘the fly in the buttermilk,’ so to speak. That was nothing new. I really didn’t look at color. I just wanted to know if you could play ball, and if you could play ball, we were good.”
(NOTE: Mary Williams – along with Jim Carlisle, Alden Mann, Shahala Hawkins and Tamyra Mensah-Stock – will be inducted into the WBU Athletics Hall of Honor, and Kathy Harston will receive the Harley Redin Coach’s Award, at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 29 during a ceremony at the University Center on the WBU campus. Friends and supporters are invited to attend.)
Williams’ basketball career began at Dunbar High School, an all-black school in Paducah, Texas. “I played with the high school team as a sixth, seventh and eighth grader because we did not have junior high, freshmen, or junior varsity teams,” Williams recalled.
Her family moved to Tulia in 1964 in the middle of her eighth-grade year when her father, T.A., a minister, was called by a church. “I had four brothers and one sister. I was the middle child, and you know what they say about the middle child – they need to compete with everyone. That was certainly me.”
Tulia offered Williams the chance to attend an integrated school for the first time. “That was an experience. Dad told us, ‘This is the opportunity we have been waiting for, so take advantage of it. You are somebody, you are not better than anybody, but you are as good as anybody.'”
Williams made Tulia’s varsity basketball team as a freshman. Coach (Bud) Roberts took an interest in me and put up a basketball goal in our yard. The goal was right behind my church. My dad told the guys who gathered to play that the goal was put there for me, and I should be in all the games if I wanted to play.”
Playing 3-on-3, half-court basketball, Tulia won the Texas State Class 3 Tournament Williams’ freshman year when her sister, Esther, was a senior. Tulia also won state again the next year and Williams was named to the all-state team.
A defensive ace, Williams said it was Coach Roberts who introduced her to the Flying Queens. “He took me and some of my teammates to Wayland to watch the Flying Queens play. He also began telling Coach Redin about me. During my senior year in high school, I was given a scholarship to Wayland.”
Williams played her first three seasons on an otherwise all-white Flying Queens team. “My teammates accepted me. They probably thought I was crazy because I picked 13 as my number. They said, ‘Thirteen is an unlucky number.’ I said, ‘Not for me, I am blessed to be here.'” She said all four of her years at Wayland were mostly “smooth sailing. My dad told me to treat other people the way you would like to be treated – red, black or white.'”
Williams said an older teammate, Wanda Roe, was her roommate on road trips. “My freshman year she took me under her wing and made sure no one bothered me – almost like a mom. We got along great and supported one another.” Prior to Williams’ senior year in 1972-73 she was joined by another black athlete, Pearl Worrell, a WBU Athletics Hall of Honor inductee in 2018.
Williams’ freshman season – the same year the women’s game saw the long-awaited change from rover rules to 5-on-5, full-court basketball – she played with the Queen Bees until Thanksgiving, then was moved up to the Flying Queens. “I just wanted to play and make them look bad so they’d move me up,” she said.
Williams’ explosive speed and rebounding ability made her ideal for the full-court game. During her four seasons, she helped the Flying Queens to a combined record of 102-16, two AAU national championships and four NWIT titles. Her senior season, the last of Redin’s 18 as head coach, Williams was named team MVP and winner of the Roscoe Snyder Award as Wayland’s top female senior student-athlete, recognized for academic excellence, Christian character and campus leadership as well as outstanding athleticism.
Some of Williams’ best basketball memories were international games. “We played the Mexican Olympic team in Plainview my freshman year, and Mexico and the Republic of China my junior year. As a sophomore I was given the opportunity to play in Cali, Colombia, representing the United States at the 1971 Pan American Games. Coach Redin and Coach (Dean) Weese were the coaches. I had a great time traveling and playing ball.”
Williams said she has good memories of campus life. “One of my favorite memories involved the dean of students, Dr. Paul Butler. Every now and then we would talk and he’d ask me how I was doing. On one occasion he was getting ready to go play tennis and he asked me if I played. I shared with him that I did not know how to play because prior to integration I wasn’t allowed on the tennis courts. Dr. Butler couldn’t believe it and said that he would teach me. And, sure enough, he took the time to teach me how to play tennis. I felt honored and encouraged by him. It meant a lot to me that the dean of students was taking the time to do something with me.”
Williams, who was voted all-campus favorite female in 1973, said she thought about joining a sorority but decided it would take too much time. “I did participate in the Miss Wayland Pageant, representing Owen Hall, and worked with the Student Foundation. I did a few other things, but my focus was basketball.”
After graduating with a degree in physical education and business, Williams went to work at Sweeny High School under Dean Foshee, who was the basketball coach at Tulia-rival Springlake-Earth when Williams was in high school. She spent the next dozen years as a teacher, an assistant girls’ basketball coach and head coach of girls’ track and field.
“Our basketball team made it to state five times and were the runners-up each time. In track, we went to state every year in various events, and one year we won the 440-yard relay. I loved coaching and teaching, but most of all I loved interacting with the students.”
Williams, who founded and supervised the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at SHS, especially enjoyed talking about life with her players. “The girls had so many questions about life and would open up to me and talk about their experiences. I realized that they really didn’t have anyone to talk to or trust. I lost an older sister and older brother to suicide. Our family didn’t even know they were struggling and, apparently, they didn’t have anyone to talk with. I wanted to make sure these kids had someone to talk to.” That inspired Williams to earn her Master of Science degree in school counseling, and she spent the next 25 years as a junior high counselor in Sweeny.
Having retired in 2010, Williams continues to advocate and support the youth of her community through volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club in their afterschool programs. She sings in the choir at Jefferson Street Church of Christ and also is involved in her community, volunteering at a food pantry, singing with her church choir at a nursing home, and helping maintain the black history exhibits at the Brazoria Heritage Foundation. Williams also enjoys travelling, having visited places such as Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Italy, Paris and Aruba.
Williams said the person she is today is a reflection on her time at Wayland. “It was a great experience. I appreciate everything they’ve done for me, and with this Hall of Honor they’re adding to it. This is just another star.”