My name is Marie Kocurek-Montgomery. I was a Flying Queen from 1974-1978. My life has been directed by what I feel are a series of miracles, which provides the foundation for this story. So many people, so many, came forward and offered guidance in my young life to bring me to where I am today. Now, decades later, I realize how important those people were to me. I was too young and dumb at the time to understand the impact they would have on my life.
I am the second of six children, (5 girls, 1 boy) raised by a stay-at-home mother and a longshoreman. We had a front and back garden on 5 acres and ate very well. My father built the home we were raised in. (my brother still lives there) We were on the coast in Corpus Christi, TX and stayed home through two Category 5 hurricanes.
Dad was a great mechanic. He built us two “go cars.” The first one had a front seat, back seat, a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd gear, and reverse. He put an emergency brake on the front passenger side so that we could teach our cousins and friends how to drive. There are 32 first cousins in my family and the question was, “Why did Frank build two ‘go cars’ for a bunch of girls?” My parents made sure we had a great playground for cousins and friends. Basketball? Knew nothing about the game and never saw a game. I went to a Catholic school for seven years, and there were no sports of any kind.
Miracle #1: I went to a public school in the ninth grade, Tuloso Midway, and was standing in line to sign up for tennis when this tall man, Coach Burl Plunkett, walked up and asked me what I was doing, I said “Signing up for tennis.” He said, “Why not basketball?” I replied, “You run up and down a court, put a ball in the hole, it’s hard to breathe, I think it’s dumb.” Coach Plunkett proceeded to pick up the corner of my T-shirt, walk me to the basketball line, and show me where to sign up for basketball. He only coached me one year and was a fantastic coach. I thank him for opening my eyes to a basketball world I never knew existed. Later he would coach the Oklahoma Sooner women’s team. I also participated in track and went to state in the shot put and discus my senior year. I graduated high school in 1974.
Every year, there is a Texas vs Oklahoma All-Star game. Coach Dean Weese was the coach for the Texas All-Stars that played Oklahoma and for some reason unknown to me, I was invited to play on the Texas team. After seeing me play, Coach Weese invited me to come to Plainview to try out for the Flying Queens.
Miracle #2: My parents drove 600 miles for me to try out. After practice I was offered a scholarship to Wayland Baptist College and the basketball shaping of my life continued.
Marsha Sharp was the Queen Bee coach for us freshmen in 1974-75. We were big, hungry and very motivated to win. Many times, Marsha would call a time-out, look up at us, shake her finger at us as she said, “You are a bunch of hot dogs.” It was hard not to laugh. We loved her. We were practice players for the Flying Queens, a great learning experience. During my sophomore year as I was playing for the Flying Queens, Coach Weese improved my basketball skills even more. A creative basketball coach, he taped two tongue depressors to my wrist to stop hyperextension. On my first shot, I broke them. So, the next day, he brought a metal pipe to practice and taped it to my right wrist. There were five of us that started at Wayland as freshman, stayed together and, in 1978, graduated together: Shena Cooper Layn, Breena Caldwell, Tina Slinker, and Leanne Waddell South. I am proud of that. Thank you, Coach Weese. For the next three seasons, 1976-78, the Flying Queens compiled a cumulative record of 98-15. In 1978, we played in the AIAW Division I Final Four Championship at UCLA.
Miracle #3: Upon graduation in 1978, I was offered a job at the University of South Carolina. Before I could go, I needed a car. The bank owned by Claude Hutcherson stepped up, said they would finance the car I wanted, and I could wait a year before starting payments. Thank you, Claude Hutcherson, for your caring generosity. Something else about the Hutcherson kindness. Upon Claude Hutcherson’s death, Wilda Hutcherson contacted the Flying Queens and told us to go to his closet and choose any two shirts we wanted. It was a thoughtful, kind gesture. I loved Claude and Wilda Hutcherson. I wore those shirts for years.
Later in 1978, the first Women’s Professional Basketball League, (WPBL) was started. I was drafted by the Houston Angels but played for the Minnesota Fillies. I played for three years. In my final year, I was traded from the Minnesota Fillies to the Nebraska Wranglers. The Nebraska Wranglers won the WPBL Championship by beating the Dallas Diamonds. In all three seasons, I was All-Pro, All-Star player, in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding, and shooting percentage. Then the league went bankrupt.
At age 26, I really needed a job. In 1982 I applied at Valero Oil Refinery in Corpus Christi. The refinery was still under construction, so I took several part-time jobs and waited. Valero hired me and I worked for them for 33 years. My first job was an operator in the Heavy Oil Cracker Unit. In 1982 very few women worked in that kind of industry. As an operator, I was working in a man’s world. I would start compressors, climb towers, put out fires, start steam turbines, shift work, etc.
Miracle #4: Wednesday, Nov. 8, 1989 changed my life, and it was a doozy. I was riding my bicycle in the country. It was a beautiful day on a typical 20-mile ride. A car hit me from behind, drug me 70 feet and left me for dead. Three good Samaritans stopped, and all called 911, not knowing that the previous one had called. In summary: a broken back, broken leg, ruptured liver, teeth knocked out, face bone broken, closed head injury, many smaller injuries. I was in a coma 8 days, ICU 2 weeks, one month total in the hospital. Next, I was sent to a rehabilitation hospital for 7 weeks. Lessons learned at home, Wayland, Valero, and help from friends, all played a HUGE part in my recovery. I worked out twice a day, 6 days a week. There was one more surgery needed to remove the rod from my leg, hooks from my spine and a 3” screw from my hip. I had recovered but wondered “What now?”
Miracle #5: In April 1991, a year and 5 months after my accident, a corporate trainer came from out of town to interview me for a training position. He asked one question, “Do you have a college degree?” Thank you, Wayland, for allowing me the opportunity to earn mine on a Flying Queen scholarship. Based on that college degree, I was provided a position in the training department.
Miracle #6: Oh, remember the metal pipe Coach Weese taped to my right wrist, to improve my shooting? It worked. On Oct. 20, 2012, I was inducted into the Wayland Baptist University Athletic Hall of Honor. Thank you.
Miracle #7: After being single for 54 years, I got married. Charles Montgomery is a petroleum engineer from LSU and we were married on Dec. 17, 2010. We live in Rockport, Texas.
Wayland Grad 1978
Flying Queens Forever!