Flying Queen

1969-73

Mary Williams

My name is Mary Williams, and I was a Flying Queen from 1969-1973.

My 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.

My family moved to Tulia from Paducah in 1964 in the middle of my eighth-grade year when my dad, a minister, was called to a position there. I had four brothers and one sister. My mom was a nurse’s assistant. 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.

When we moved to Tulia, it was my first time to attend an integrated school. That was an experience! Dad said, “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, you are somebody. Treat others like you want to be treated.”

My junior high coach was Doug Paine, and the head coach was Bud Roberts. I made Tulia’s varsity as a freshman. Coach Roberts took an interest in me and put up a basketball goal in our yard. The goal was right behind the 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. My dad also told the guys, they could not play during church services because if they missed hitting the backboard, the ball would hit the church building—loud and right behind the pulpit.

During my high school days, we played three-on-three half-court basketball. Our team won the Texas State Class 3 Tournament my freshman year (1966). It was my sister’s senior year and we played guard together. We also won State again the next year and I was named to the All-State Team.

It was my coach, Bud Roberts, who introduced me to the Flying Queens. He took me and some of my teammates to Wayland to watch the Flying Queens play. He also started telling Coach Redin about me. My senior year in high school, I was given a scholarship to Wayland.

My first year I played with the Queen Bees until Thanksgiving. Then I was moved up to the Flying Queens. At the time, I had no idea that I was the first black 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. 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.

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.”

I did however have some bumps along the way. Claude told Coach Redin he didn’t like my Afro. Coach Redin told me what Claude said, and followed with, “He is paying the bills.” I was a little upset. My hair style wasn’t affecting my playing. When I went home, I told my dad what Claude said. Dad’s answer was, “What’s more important, your education, getting to do what you love, or your hair style? It’s a fad that will probably be gone in a few weeks.” So, I got rid of my Afro. As usual, Dad was right.

During my time at Wayland some of my 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. I was also given the opportunity to play in Cali, Columbia representing the United States at the 1971 Pan American Games. Coach Redin and Coach Weese were the coaches. I had a great time traveling and playing ball. My roommate on road trips was Wanda Roe. We got along great and supported one another. My freshman year she took care of me and made sure no one bothered me—almost like a mom.

I have good memories of campus life. One of my favorite memories at Wayland involved the Dean of Students, Dr. 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. He really impressed me by doing that.

I thought about joining a sorority but decided that 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.

When I graduated from Wayland with a degree in physical education and business, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Then I heard that Dean Foshee had an opening and was interested in hiring me. He had been the basketball coach at Springlake Earth, a Tulia rival, when I was in high school and had since gone down south to coach in Sweeny, Texas. I got excited. Superintendent Fred Miller said that he wasn’t going to hire anyone that he didn’t personally interview. The next thing I knew, Superintendent Miller flew out to interview me. After the interview, I was told that if I wanted the job, it was mine. I got super excited!

I was a teacher, assistant girls’ basketball coach, and head girls’ track coach for 12 years at Sweeny High School. 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.

I started and supervised the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Sweeny High School. During basketball tournaments in between games our team would spend time hanging out on the bus. 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. These events inspired me to get my Master of Science degree in school counseling. I retired in 2010 from Sweeny having been a junior high counselor for 25 years.

In retirement, I continue to advocate and actively support the youth of my community through volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club in their afterschool programs. I have always been involved in church activities and the choir and continue to do so. I attend the Jefferson Street Church of Christ and on Sunday after church our choir sings at the Cypress Woods Nursing Home.

I continue to not only be involved in my church, but my community as well. Prior to the pandemic, some friends and I would sing every Tuesday at the nursing home. On Thursdays I volunteer at the food pantry. Life has been tough on so many that I want to help out in any way I can. I am also involved in Brazoria County. The county turned an old school building into a museum known as the Brazoria Heritage Foundation. A former Sweeny colleague was able to create one of the rooms into a dedicated space honoring Black History and I am blessed to help her maintain it.

I also enjoy travelling. Prior to the pandemic, I was blessed to travel to places such as Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Italy, Paris, and Aruba. Once this pandemic is over, I hope to return to travelling.
I have kept in contact with a few former teammates, Sylvia Nadler and Cherri Rapp. In fact, Sylvia was the person who contacted me to let me know that Dean Foshee had passed. I really appreciated that she took the time to let me know.

If I had the opportunity to talk with players today, I would share some of my favorite quotes. “Once you get an opportunity, take advantage of it. Do your best to succeed. Have a good attitude. Your attitude determines your altitude. Experiences make you a better person. And most of all, if He brings you to it, He’ll get you through it.” Attending Wayland was an experience, but it made me the person I am today. Wayland was good to me.

Editor’s notes:
1. The material for this story was gathered by Darla Merrill, a member of the Board of the Hutcherson Flying Queens Foundation and designated as our “roving reporter.” She related that Mary is a very modest person and offered little about her accomplishments as an individual or as a coach. Thus, most of the information above about her high school accomplishments and her success in coaching was added by me via research.
2. In trying not to greatly alter the tone of her story, I will just list other things from her Wayland days that she didn’t tell us: NWIT All-Tournament Team (1971); Gold Coast Classic All-Tournament Team (1973); All-Campus Favorite (female-1973); Flying Queens MVP (1973); Rosco Snyder Award given annually to a senior man and senior woman who best exhibit academic excellence, Christian character, and campus leadership as well as being outstanding athletes (1973); the Queens won the AAU National Tournament twice and the NWIT four times during Mary’s tenure at Wayland.
3. Anyone wishing to write or call Mary may request her contact information from nadlersf@mac.com

Mary Williams

Wayland Grad 1973

Flying Queens Forever!