I’m Darla Armes Ford and I grew up in a small farming and ranching town at the top of the Texas Panhandle, Gruver, Texas. Gruver is a wonderful community to grow up in, everyone knows everyone. The community supports the schools and all their youth programs. My graduating class of 1980 had 29 students.
My parents are John and Doris Armes. We lived out on the farm. My dad was a farmer and rancher, my mom was a stay-at-home housewife. I loved going with my dad, especially when he was working on the farm or moving cattle. I grew up riding horses and I started rodeoing at the age of 8.
I loved playing outside all day long. My dad put up a goal with a wooden backboard in our Quonset barn so we could play in there when it was cold. My two older brothers and I would spend most nights out playing basketball. We would play H-O-R-S-E and one on one for hours. This Quonset barn with the wooden backboard is where I learned to love the game of basketball.
After years of playing basketball in the barn with my brothers, I finally got a chance to play basketball in my 6th grade P. E. class. I was so excited! The first time I got the ball, I took off dribbling the length of the floor for a lay-up. My P. E. teacher blew her whistle and told me I could not go past the half court line. She had to explain the rules of 6-man basketball to me. I had never seen a girls basketball game. I thought having to stop at half court was the craziest rule I had ever heard!
In high school I rodeoed, played basketball, ran track, and played tennis. My high school coach was F. G. Crawford. He was a wonderful coach that pushed me to be better every day. In 1976 (my freshman year) the University Interscholastic League (UIL) made a major change in girls’ basketball. They adopted the five-player, full court game. UIL stated that junior high and junior varsity teams would change that year to five-man game. The varsity level would not change to five-man full court until 1978. I was on varsity all four years, so I played six man my freshman & sophomore years; and I played five-man full court my junior and senior years. I loved the full court game. In 1980, my senior year, I was named to the Converse National High School Girls Basketball All-American team and the Carnation Prep All-American Girl Athlete Team.
My grandparents, aunt and cousins lived in Plainview, Texas. Thanksgivings were always spent in Plainview. In 1976 my parents took me to the Queens Classic. I remember the first time I walked into Hutcherson Center and watched the Hutcherson Flying Queens warm-up. I was so intrigued. They performed their tricks and the famous “Kick-Off” to end the pre-game. I knew after watching that game that my goal was to play college basketball.
After my senior season, I would decide where I would play college ball. It was deciding between Texas Tech, Stephen F Austin, and Wayland. Coach Benson at Texas Tech and Coach Wilson at Wayland both offered me full scholarships. On my visit to Wayland, Mike Hutcherson took Susan Creel, Betty Brown (my future teammates) and me on a plane ride over Plainview. That ride sealed the deal for me as I discovered my love of flying. At that point, I knew I wanted to be part of the great history of the Hutcherson Flying Queens!
The first 2 weeks of my freshman year at Wayland was “Initiation”. We had to wear our little blue & gold beanies everywhere we went except the gym. Initiation was a major team building experience. We had to depend on our freshmen teammates, and we learned about all the upperclassmen Flying Queens. Those 2 weeks are some of my best memories. After initiation you knew you were officially a “Hutcherson Flying Queen”.
I am so grateful to Mike Hutcherson and the other pilots for an experience only a few basketball players get to enjoy. Traveling to all your games in three Beechcraft airplanes.
My sophomore year was a very exciting year. Coach Wilson led us to the National Tournament. We traveled to Berkeley, CA where we beat the University of Montana, and then played California Berkeley on their home court. We won 85-70 to advance into The Final Four of the AIAW (Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) Division 1 National Basketball Championship Tournament in Philadelphia, PA at the Palestra (The Cathedral of College Basketball). The Final Four teams were Wayland Baptist University, the University of Texas, Rutgers University and Villanova. The Queens lost to the University of Texas in our fifth meeting of the 1981-82 season 82-63. Rutgers University would go on to defeat Texas and win the AIAW National Championship.
The 1982 season was a defining moment in women’s collegiate basketball. The AIAW disbanded after ten 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 Division 1 Championship.
In the season of 1982-83, Wayland started into a new era by joining the NAIA and a new era was happening in my life as well. In the Spring of my sophomore year, I met the love of my life Randy Ford. Randy was a farmer in Lockney, Texas. Randy attended several of the Queens games during the 81-82 season. He decided he wanted to meet me after the season was over. We had our first date in April of 1982. We dated all summer and decided we wanted to get married. Once school started in the Fall, we decided to talk to Coach Wilson about our plans to get married. Coach Wilson gave us her blessings and we decided to get married after the trip to Hawaii. On December 17th the Queens flew to Hawaii to play in the Rainbow Wahine Classic. We beat Cal Poly-San Luis Obisbo 73-58 in the first game. The second game we played was the University of Southern California. USC had quite the team with the McGee twins, Cynthia Cooper, and Cheryl Miller. When we walked into the locker room USC had written “Way-Who” on the chalkboard. We gave them a good fight but lost 79-93. We returned to Plainview on December 22nd. Randy and I were married December 28, 1982, in Gruver, Texas. I was back on the court on January 2nd for practice. We made it to the NAIA National Tournament in Kansas City, Missouri. Our season ended with a loss to the University of Portland 60-65.
Coach Cathy Wilson retired from coaching at the end of 82-83 season. I had both of my knees operated on that summer.
The 1983-84 season brought Dave Ketterman as our new head coach. Our team was a good mix of new players and veteran players. Our season ended with a loss in the District 8 Playoffs.
If I could sit down with a former Queen and talk, I would choose Lometa Odom from Plainview. When I graduated from Wayland I started my teaching career at Plainview ISD, the same school district as Lometa. During the time we worked together I knew she was a former Queen, but I did not realize the lasting impact on women’s basketball or what her legacy truly was. She was very humble. I wish I knew then what I know now of how much of a pioneer she was. I would have loved to sit down and talk with her more about it.
If I could share some words of wisdom to current players, it would be to make the effort to connect with former Queens. I have learned so much from former players. For example, I learned that Linda Pickens Price and I have something besides basketball in common. We both married the loves of our lives during our playing days. Former Queens carry so much of the history of women’s basketball and Title IX that it is important to get to know as many of them as possible. I would also encourage them to read the stories of former Queens and to share their stories as well because they are a part of this continued legacy.
Darla Armes Ford
Wayland Grad 1984
Flying Queens Forever!