I was born in 1935, the youngest of 4 children, with two brothers and one sister, on a farm near Blair, Oklahoma. My father’s family had come from Alabama and homesteaded the land in 1904.
I attended Blair School and graduated high school in 1953. Like most kids in small schools in Oklahoma, I became excited about getting to play basketball. By the time I got to high school it became more important and serious.
The year I was a sophomore, my oldest brother decided I needed a basketball goal in my back yard. He got a real goal somewhere and built the backboard himself out of plywood. He put it up, making sure it was at the exactly correct height, then measured the correct distance to the free throw line and made a marker.
He then gave me some “coaching.” I was doing well with my right-handed drive shots, but he challenged me to practice until I could make the left handed ones just as well. I spent hours and hours in my back yard practicing that. Then, he told me, “You shouldn’t ever miss a free shot.”
I was amazed at that! He explained that the goal is always the same height, and that the free throw line is always the same distance from the goal, and that the ball is always the same size. So all you have to do is throw the ball the same way every time.
I never forgot those two things and spent hours and hours in our back yard practicing drive shots and free throws.
Also, in the middle of that sophomore year, our coach was drafted into the army (it was during The Korean War) and we had a new coach who had just graduated from the University Oklahoma after playing 4 years of baseball there. His name was Delbert Holt. He was a great coach.
The next two years, my junior and senior years, we won consecutive state championships. My same two skills had been greatly improved and I had great teammates. Nobody plays a team sport well without others. The goal is to make each other better, and I believe that’s what we did. I do remember one high school game against our biggest conference rival I made 19 free throws. I didn’t believe it when someone told me after the game, but sure enough I had. Apparently, the other team was fouling to stop me driving.
One of my other best memories is: In the finals of the Oklahoma State Tournament in my senior year, I made 28 points and 16 of those were free throws. At the end of the year I was named All-State. (THANK YOU, BROTHER!)
After graduation, I had no plans for the future, but college looked unlikely because of the expense. I had worked some during high school at a local restaurant but saw no future in that.
My hometown of Blair is in far southwest Oklahoma, not very far from Plainview in the Texas panhandle, but I had never been there and had never heard of Wayland Baptist College and the Flying Queens basketball team.
But my other brother lived in the Dallas area and happened to read an article in the newspaper about Wayland Baptist College girls’ basketball team having just missed winning a national championship. He called Wayland and talked to Coach Redin. He told him about my high school experience, the two state championships, my All-State selection, etc. Coach Redin told him he had just had tryouts, that there had been 60 girls trying out for two scholarships, and he didn’t have any more. I had graduated as valedictorian of my class and had received a small scholarship. Coach Redin told my brother to bring me to Plainview to work out with the Queens and he would see what he could do. My brother took me to Wayland. After spending a long workout with them, Coach told my brother that if I would come to Wayland for a semester and make the team, he would have a scholarship for me. That’s what I and he did. I was a Flying Queen!
I was assigned to be the roommate of Faye Wilson (sister of Raye Wilson, her identical twin.) One of the first days on campus Faye got Claude (our sponsor and pilot) to take us up for my first time ever to fly. How exciting! We climbed into one of his Beechcraft Bonanzas. It was a beautiful day to fly. The sun was bright and there were marshmallow clouds floating in the sky with us!
My years at Wayland were a time of fun, making friends, loving the hard work of basketball, while getting most of my college education. It was a time of new experiences.
I remember my first game flight. It was to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to play the Hanes Hosiery team who had beaten the Queens in the AAU National Tournament the year before by a close margin. This time, we won what was to become the first of 131 consecutive wins. That was the fall of 1953. The next loss would come at the end of the season in 1957 after winning four consecutive national championships. I was there for the first three.
In the 1950’s very few colleges had competitive girls’ teams. But most small high schools in Oklahoma and Texas and other states in mid-America did. However, fewer large schools participated at least in Oklahoma. I know that both Oklahoma and Texas had state tournaments. Many of the Queens were All-Staters. Also, most of the girls I played with were from those two states. However, I recall playing with a few girls from other states. I remember one from Missouri and one, I believe, from Kentucky or Tennessee.
Later, when Title IX came along and gave girls equal access, I guess almost every school that didn’t have it, added girls’ basketball.
But coming to Wayland required some adjustment. AAU rules were somewhat different. There were 6 players from each team on the court as in high school, but the action was 4 on 4—perhaps moving toward 5 on 5 but not there yet.
The six girls consisted of 2 forwards and 2 guards who stayed on each end and didn’t go full court. Two girls on each team were rovers going end to end, making 4 on 4. Also, in high school we had unlimited dribble; AAU rules allowed only three bounces on the dribble. Those changes required some adjustment for freshmen, but really wasn’t hard to follow. You can go a long way on three dribbles, but the 4 on 4 required more work.
Our schedule each year at Wayland consisted of about 25 games and the AAU National Tournament in St. Joseph, Missouri. We didn’t play “pickup’ games locally. We had to go a long way to play other AAU teams that were competitive. There was no NCAA or NAIA, etc. for us. That is why the sponsorship and generosity of Claude and Wilda Hutcherson, and the hard work, dedication, and skills of Coach Harley Redin were so needed and appreciated. There would have been no Queens without them.
AAU teams could have sponsors to support them. Not only did Claude and Wilda furnish the planes, they also provided or helped provide equipment, suits and travel. Our school colors were blue and gold and we had a suit in both colors and a set of white with warm-ups. I’m not sure what the college provided, the coach, and other things I don’t know now. Players had to be a full-time student, making passing grades, I presume.
Claude ran the Plainview airport, bought, sold and serviced Beechcraft Bonanza airplanes, and had farmland in the Panhandle. With them we were cared for. That is the reason we were named Hutcherson Flying Queens.
To have good competition we did have to travel. I remember flying to Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; St. Joseph, Missouri; Des Moines, Iowa; and Denver, Colorado. Those trips provided many, many memories.
The Bonanza was a very nice small plane. There were the pilot’s seat, a copilot’s seat and a back seat very much like a car. Three could ride comfortably in the back if they were all of average size or smaller. We didn’t have very many really small girls. Long legs could be folded. That means it took at least 3 planes for girls. Occasionally, Wilda or some other person(s) would go with us. That would mean more pilots, more meals three times a day, more hotel rooms, etc. The Hutcherson’s were very generous, and they always seemed to have as much fun as the girls.
We were fortunate that Claude had available pilots, not all needed at the same time. Claude would pilot one plane. Coach Harley Redin had been a pilot in the military and usually piloted one. There were two other older men available and two younger men who were students at the college who were experienced pilots.
Together, we made quite a group. I remember that when we would go to a restaurant, especially when we were wearing our warm-ups, people were amazed. Several of us were so tall and all dressed alike! Claude would always make reservations well before we got there and we usually ordered what we wanted individually. He always chose nice restaurants and hotels. I’m sure Wilda must have helped on that.
I remember a trip to Des Moines, Iowa. When we arrived there, it had been snowing. Snow was piled up everywhere except on the landing strip, and we made it down fine. We had a game that night and started home the next day in good weather. We had been up for some time, headed southwest when we flew into some rain, hardly noticeable. I was in the plane with Claude. Faye Wilson was in the co-pilot seat and someone else and I were in the back seat. I didn’t hear it but Claude looked over to Faye and said, ”Look out there on the wing and see if you can see any ice.” She said she couldn’t see any. We had gone on a little longer when Claude picked up his radio and we could hear him tell the other pilots we were going to put down in Kansas City.
It was the right decision. We were snowed in 2 nights, as I recall. He got us into a historic hotel named The Muehlebach. I never learned what it was known for, but it was nice. Years later I happened to hear on the news that it had burned and that it had been historic. On campus, it was semester test time and a few of the girls had brought books and used the extra time to study. Some visited a museum close by. I don’t remember doing either. When the weather permitted, we made it home safely.
Another trip I remember was the one to Denver. We played for the first time on TV. We were thrilled about that! That was about 1955. At that time, not everyone had a TV. I guess about the only one I had seen was one our dorm mother had in the dormitory and she would let us come in and watch it sometimes. I remember seeing The Lawrence Welk Show and the Ed Sullivan Show occasionally. But to know that people in the Denver area got to see us play on a TV was exciting for us!
The AAU National Tournament in St. Joseph, Missouri, was always fun, especially because we won. One year they had a free throw contest. Anyone on any team could enter. I’d been pretty good at free throws (THANK YOU, BROTHER) so I decided I would just enter it.
Each contestant shot 100 shots. An official watched every shot and recorded it. The shooter had one person to catch the ball and throw it back. It takes a long time to attempt 100 shots! I figured later that if you shoot 1 shot every 30 seconds it would consume 50 minutes. But I did it and was surprised how well I did. I had made 90. Wow! But when it was over, Ruth Cannon, a teammate had made 96. No wonder she was a 3-time All-American!
I remember only one disappointment. In either 1954 or ’55 the Queens were to represent the USA at the Pan-American Games in Guatemala. The games were held in the summer time and we were so excited. But before summer got here they had a Communist Uprising down there and we didn’t get to go.
As much as I loved the three years at Wayland, I had to face an important choice. It was either to stay or go back to my hometown and marry that high school coach I admired so much. I chose the latter.
I finished my Bachelors degree in Business Education at Southwestern Oklahoma State University and later completed a Masters Degree adding Language Arts to my teaching certifications. My husband, Delbert Holt, in the meantime completed his administration certification and moved from coaching, to principal, to superintendent. We spent most of the rest of our years in the Blair School District. We both retired in the 1980s. I had taught 28 years with all but five years in Blair. Delbert was in education 33 years with only three years in another school.
During those many years we had two children, a girl and a boy, then four grandchildren. Daughter Cindy teaches nursing at Oklahoma University School of Nursing. Son Hal spent many years in the Sentinel, Oklahoma School District, and like his dad went from coaching, to principal, to superintendent. He is now Director of the Vo-Tech Campus in Sayre, OK.
Of our four grandchildren, three are coaching and/ or teaching, and one is in Law School after spending two tours of duty in the Marines in Afghanistan. All of them gave us many years of excitement playing basketball and baseball.
Delbert and I had just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary in May 2006 when he began feeling bad in September. We went to the doctor on Thursday and he was diagnosed with leukemia. He died on Sunday. What a shock!
I later remarried and left my home in Blair. My husband, Dale Geis, lived in Norman, and that is where I live now. Five years ago he died of cancer. Norman is a good place to live if you like sports. OU offers almost anything you want to watch or attend. And I have family members nearby—a sister, daughter, and two grandchildren. God is Good!
I would love to reconnect with Queens and other friends from Wayland!