Queen Bee

1977-81

Darla Merrill

I grew up the youngest of five children on 16 ½ acres east of Houston, outside of Crosby, Texas. We raised horses, cows, pigs, chickens, guineas, peacocks, and grew most of our own vegetables. I loved being outside and helping my dad on any project as there was always work to. Both parents were hard workers and led by example. My dad was a great athlete. He boxed in the Army and played semi-pro baseball. He had a mean hook shot and when he wasn’t working on the farm or at work, we would play basketball. He built a half-court basketball court in our backyard where I spent many hours practicing. My parents and family always supported me. They rarely missed a Crosby High School home game and even traveled to away games. I could always hear my parents cheering in the stands.
My oldest sister was 15 years older than me and my youngest sister was four years older. My only brother was 10 years older. He taught me how to hunt, fix cars, weld, work with my hands, and gave me my first driving lesson as I sat in his lap and shifted while he pushed the clutch. I was closest to my sister Debbie, who was a senior in high school when I was a freshman. Growing up as the youngest had its perks. However, as an adult, being the youngest is also difficult because now I am the only one still alive. Life comes full circle when you take care of family at the end of their lives. I’ve learned that what really matters in life are people, and the relationships and memories you make along the way. I also learned that God is gracious, kind, loving, and right there with us when those we love go home to be with Him.

I wanted to go to college from a very young age. Growing up, I wanted to be either a horse rancher, a teacher, or a professional basketball player. My oldest sister, Diane, went to the University of Houston and was the drum majorette for the Cougar band. I remember going to the football games to not only watch the game but watch the half-time band performance. I loved school and all that went along with it. I played basketball, volleyball, tennis and ran track. As a young girl looking for women role models in professional sports, Billie Jean King was the only one that really stood out. I would read Sports Illustrated looking for women in basketball. Every now and then I would read about a small Baptist school (Wayland) competing against much larger ones and doing quite well.

When I was 14, I attended a revival at my church. Up until that point I really did not know what I wanted to do with my life or how I could contribute. Elaine Ernst was part of the revival team and the special singer. As she gave her testimony about giving your talents to God and letting Him do the rest, it spoke to me. She also beautifully sang “My Tribute” and “Lord, Listen to your Children Praying.” During that revival in 1973 I gave my talents (playing basketball) and my life to Jesus. I prayed that He would use my talents to His glory and lead and guide my life in the direction He wanted me to go. After that experience, I became very involved not only in church but in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). I truly believed that God was using my athletic talents to reach out and teach others about Christ. I attended several FCA summer camps and met many professional and collegiate Christian athletes who had dedicated their talents to Christ. I was able to visit Baylor University and Oral Roberts University because they were camp locations. I also visited several other colleges and community colleges. Even though I never visited Wayland, I learned about the Flying Queens through research and tiny articles in Sports Illustrated. So, I wrote a letter of interest to Coach Weese. He wrote back, and I was so excited. I continued to pray about where I should go. As the days went by, it was clear that God was leading me to Wayland and the Flying Queens.

The 600-mile trip from the gulf coast to Wayland was a family affair. We packed up three cars and headed to Plainview. I was so excited. I was on my way to living my dream. We drove all around campus. Some spots I remember visiting specifically were Hutcherson gym, Fleming-Mays, and Gates Hall. I had never been far away from home for any extended time period. For me, this was where God wanted me, so I felt I could handle anything and if I couldn’t, then I would let go and let God get me through it. Everything was fine until my parents and sister got ready to leave. I was mom’s baby, and she was leaving me 600 miles away. I kept assuring her that I would be fine, and that God would take care of me. After they left, it hit me that I was physically all alone and on my own. I kept praying and asking if this is really where I was supposed to be. This is where I learned that if God brings you to it, He will get you through it. So, I continued to trust.

Attending Wayland was an awesome experience. I was playing for the best basketball program around and attending a Christian college. The hardest part was being away from my family. They were my biggest supporters. It was hard going from always having your family in the stands to their never being able to attend any games. What got me through was their continued prayers, love and support, care packages from my oldest sister Diane, chicken feed (money), letters from my sister Debbie and Mom and Sunday afternoon phone calls. I loved basketball, growing my relationship with God, and doing both at Wayland. I believed the promise in Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ”. Believing that, it did not matter whether I played for the Queens or the Queen Bees because God was blessing me and preparing me for my future. As Bees, we practiced with the Queens, learned every offense and defense they did, ran the offenses and defenses of the opposing teams and learned from the same awesome coaches such as Dean Weese, Cathy Wilson, Shena Cooper, and Raschelle Pohlmeir.

Outside of basketball, I pledged Theta Alpha Psi (TAP), a Christian women’s social service organization. Being involved, helping serve others, and being a part of something outside of basketball was fulfilling, and the bond developed through the sisterhood of TAP will always be special.

My most memorable moments at Wayland occurred my freshman year in 1978. The Queens had an outstanding year and made it to the AIAW finals hosted in Los Angeles. All the Bees and many others from Wayland boarded buses and headed west to support our Queens. I had never traveled that far away from home. Sitting in UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion and watching the Queens play in the final four was amazing. Wilt Chamberlain was courtside watching the games. We also got to go to Disneyland. That was a real treat and the beginning of my love for everything Disney.

As a Queen Bee we traveled in vans, did homework by flashlight, and loved every minute of life. Through this experience, we truly felt we were a part of an awesome, life-changing program.

As a part of the Flying Queens program, I believed I could achieve anything I put my mind to and work hard for. Walking across campus one day I saw a flyer calling for basketball players to try out for a team called News Release Basketball whose mission was “To present the good news of JESUS CHRIST and develop disciples of our Lord by building Christ-centered relationships using the sport of basketball.” I tried out and went on two mission trips with them. During that time, I was introduced to another program called the Northwest Invaders who had a similar mission and played out of Portland, Oregon. So, for two years after graduation, I was a sports evangelist; traveling across the United States, Europe, and even South America getting to play the sport I love all while serving Jesus. I loved every minute of it. God was continuing to work and lead my life.

I graduated from Wayland with a double major in biology and physical education with a minor in health. While in Oregon I was offered a job working with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Houston. After almost a year with FCA, my alma mater, Crosby High School, called and offered a position at Crosby Middle School. In 1983, I taught middle school science, was Crosby High School’s Head Track and Volleyball coach, and was the 7th grade girls basketball coach.

While at Crosby I discovered I loved teaching students who were not necessarily special education students but for some reason had difficulty in school and/or dealing with personal challenges. I taught science for what was called A School Within A School. That was the beginning of my career in teaching Alternative Education. I moved to California because of the opportunities in the science field. I have taught at Mountain View Continuation High School, Fischer School within Juvenile Hall, Chapman Lyceum, a court community school, and Brea Canyon Continuation High School. I am currently teaching at Coast High School, an alternative program in the Huntington Beach Union High School District. I love what I do and who I teach. I am privileged to work with amazing students who I not only get to teach, but I also get to learn from as well.

My family consists of my partner of 31 years, Sue, and our four-legged fur baby, Sam. Though my parents and siblings are no longer with us, we are surrounded by many nephews and nieces and great nephews and great nieces who live all across the country, all of whom bring much joy and love to our lives. We love sharing our home with friends and family and enjoying the adventures that living in Huntington Beach, California offers, such as visiting Disneyland, walks and bike rides along the beach and drives along our beautiful coast. I am truly blessed.

I love being outdoors. Whether gardening, grilling, doing DIY projects, walking along the beach, bike riding, camping, hanging out with family and friends, going to Disneyland (I have an annual pass and go as often as my busy schedule allows), and watching and playing sports. I love animals and have rescued many cats and dogs over the years, especially German Shepherds. I travel back to Texas often to visit my sister Debbie, who passed in June, my nieces, Courtney and Casey, and brother-in-law, Gary. We talk and FaceTime almost every day and maintain a strong relationship despite the distance. We currently have one cat, a rescued Maine Coon named Sam. I also enjoy keeping up with my Houston sports teams, the Astros, Rockets, and Texans, and supporting them from afar. I love to travel, explore new places, and revisit ones when possible.

The sorrows of my life have been losing family members that I loved dearly. Even though I know I will see them again, I still miss them. The highlights of my life are many, and I feel especially blessed to have been recognized as an educator. In 1999, I was a finalist for Correctional Education Association Region VII Educator of the Year. In 2010, I was selected as The Simon Youth Foundation National Teacher of the Year and most recently as the 2019 Huntington Beach Union High School District Teacher of the Year. I also was a 2019 finalist for Orange County Teacher of the Year. However, being a part of the amazing Flying Queens Organization and Class of 2019 inductees into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is the cherry on top. Indeed, I am tremendously blessed.

Over the years I have seen friends at the Final Four and have kept up with a few friends, but I haven’t been back to Wayland since graduating in 1981. I follow the Wayland Women’s Basketball program and if they play around my area, I always try to attend the game. I most recently attended the Flying Queens’ game against VanGuard in Costa Mesa.

Wayland friends and teammates would be surprised to know that I have built and taught students how to build a canoe-sized, solar-powered boat from scratch that runs on solar energy and is used in races. We spend just about the whole year prepping, building, and testing the boat, which leads up to a competition called the Solar Cup at Lake Skinner.

Playing college basketball taught me many life lessons: the value of discipline and hard work, the importance of perseverance, teamwork and understanding team roles, the value and importance of relationships, the value in trusting teammates, and the value of learning to lead – whether on the court or on the bench. I also learned that basketball can be the conduit for reaching others for Christ.

If I had the chance to talk to current Queens and or their coaches, I would tell them that they come from a long line of basketball royalty and should be proud to wear the Flying Queen uniform. I would tell them to stand tall, stand in faith and be proud to represent Wayland and the Flying Queens’ rich heritage. Learn about the Queens who came before them, the trailblazers, who helped changed the sport, not just for Wayland, but for girls in sports across the country.

Words cannot describe what it means to me to be a part of the Queens’ Legacy and now a member of the Class of 2019 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. History is important because it validates one’s existence. The Flying Queens’ contribution to this great game and to women in sports is now etched in history in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. I am grateful for the sponsors, leaders, coaches and players who came before me and had the vision to keep playing, to keep pushing boundaries and to keep doing the unthinkable even though Wayland was/is a small Christian college/university in the middle of the West Texas Plains.

Darla Merrill

Wayland Grad 1981

Queens and Bees Proud Forever!