Flying Queen

1956-60

Patsy Neal

I am Patsy Neal, Hutcherson Flying Queen, 1956-1960, and I was one of the fortunate women who had the opportunity to play basketball in the 50’s and 60’s because I grew up in Georgia, one of the few states that offered basketball for girls in high school. Basketball changed my life. It became an extension of my being, allowing me to develop my mind, body, and emotions in a never-ending search for perfection. Even today, the smells, sense of touch, the sounds, and the failures and accomplishes experienced in gyms around the world continue to affect my life.

My hometown (Elberton, Georgia) was a small town with supportive coaches, fans, players and family. I was raised on a farm with a twin sister (not identical) and an older brother. My dad worked extremely hard running a sawmill and lumber mill, and tending to our land and cows. When he lost a kidney because of kidney stones, he still managed to keep everything going.

My dad put up a basketball goal in our yard when I was very young, right next to our goldfish pond. Dribbling on dirt, and attempting to keep the ball out of the water, forced me to learn how to control a basketball and my temper. I do not remember my parents missing a game during my high school competition nor—do I remember the girls’ team being treated differently than the boys’ team. We traveled on the bus together, we played our game before the boys’ game, and our uniforms and fan support were just as good—and sometimes better than theirs. And with every bounce of the ball, my love grew for the sport. I averaged over 40 points a game my senior year, but all I could think about was how could I live without basketball after high school when I knew of no college that had women’s basketball?

After desperately searching for a college with a basketball team for women, and finding none, l decided to go to a small college in South Carolina on an academic scholarship but my heart wanted more—it wanted to wrap itself around a little round ball.

And, then, a few weeks before high school graduation, a miracle happened. I saw a small paragraph in a newspaper I seldom read that simply said that Wayland Baptist College (Plainview, Texas) had won the National AAU Women’s Basketball Championship. With heart thumping, and sweaty hands, I called Wayland and was invited to a try-out. It was years later when I fully understood Robert Frost’s poetry: ”Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference.”

My parents drove me to Texas and when there, two things rocked my world. I found out Wayland was the only college in the country that offered full basketball scholarships to women (years before Title IX), and that they flew in four Beechcraft Bonanzas to out-of-town games. I worked my head off in the tryout and then found out I had to go up in one of the small planes to prove I could fly with the Queens. Never having flown before, getting into one of those small planes was one of the hardest things I have ever done—but I did it. Still white with fear from the flight, I almost exploded with joy when I was offered a full scholarship to play with the Queens. My life was blessed from that day with countless opportunities and challenges.

I consider the four years at Wayland College to be the best years of my life. Not only was basketball the centerpiece of my life, but I was surrounded by good Christian people, obtained an excellent education, got to travel to places I had never been and had the opportunity to develop my skills under one of the greatest coaches in the business, Harley Redin. But it wasn’t all easy. I had never been away from my family for an extended period of time. I was in a different culture in Texas, I knew no one there, and I was extremely homesick. I barely ate the first few weeks, and I even lost my confidence on the court because I was playing with several All-Americans at Wayland. It took a couple of months, and a trip home for Christmas, before I relaxed and regained my game, finally making the starting lineup my freshman year.

Wayland gave me so many wonderful memories. The things that stand out the most are the many fun times on campus, being selected as the first woman President of the Student body and Homecoming Queen, the caring and influence of teachers, Coach Redin, and Wilda and Claude Hutcherson {sponsors of the Queens), the moral influence of a Christian College, and the constant challenges of balancing education and basketball.

As a Flying Queen, the memories are endless: playing in the game when our 131-straight streak was broken, being on two National AAU Championship teams (1957 and 1959), playing in the 1959 Pan-American Games, competing against the great Nashville Business College team and their 15 time All-American, Nera White (possibly the greatest woman basketball player of all time), winning the National AAU Free-Throw contest with 48-50 as a freshman, and taking part in pre-game warm-ups that would have made the Globetrotters proud will always be a part of me. Probably the two things that stand out the most as a Queen were: (1) having our 131 game streak broken and Coach Redin, amid his disappointment, still teaching us sportsmanship by telling us to go out and lose the same way we had been winning all those years, and (2) being selected to play against the Russian All Star team in several games across the states, including the first women’s basketball game in Madison Square Garden (November 26, 1959).

At Wayland, I grew in many different directions. Wayland not only changed my life-Wayland propelled my life for years to come. While playing with an independent team in Utah, it was the skills I learned at Wayland that allowed me to be selected AAU All-American for the third time, and to be chosen for USA All-Star teams that played in the 1964 World Basketball Tournament (Peru, South America), and on a tour of France, Germany, and Russia in 1965. My greatest honor in basketball was being selected Captain of the US team in the 64 World Tournament, and carrying the U.S. Flag before 30,000 spectators.

Playing for the independent AAU team in Salt Lake City (Utah Lakers) was like returning to the dark ages after playing with Wayland. We paid all expenses for our trips, traveling in cars as far as 500 miles away to get a game, and often playing two games back to back to make the trip worthwhile. The hardships didn’t matter. Basketball was such a big part of my life, that 1 could not let it go for years after Wayland. While in Utah, I received my Master’s Degree from the University of Utah and taught at the University for three years. Overall, I taught for 21 years (19 at the college level), and later changed course by accepting the position of Wellness Coordinator at a large health care system in North Carolina for 13 years, and going from there to the position of Executive Director of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tennessee for three years.

While playing basketball in Utah, I tried to pass on some of my knowledge by writing a textbook on basketball (Basketball Techniques For Women, 1966), but unfortunately lost my amateur status as a result—probably the low point of my life. After that, l tried to pay back some of my blessings by giving basketball workshops, clinics, making speeches, and eventually starting a basketball school for girls. In 2003, I was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and in 2013, was part of the Wayland team inducted as “Trailblazers of the Game.”

I have been so blessed by basketball and Wayland College. The one thing that makes me sad is that there were so many good women athletes that never had the opportunity to play because they grew up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes, I feel guilty when honors come my way because I know others deserved the same chances I had, and were probably better athletes—but just didn’t have the opportunity.

The ties at Wayland were so strong that even after almost 60 years, I still have contact with several of my teammates, though states apart. I hope the present day Flying Queens recognize the unique tradition, background, and history of the Flying Queens and feel the same pride, love of the game, and privilege of being a Flying Queen. And playing for the Queens was a privilege. As a Queen, I learned that hard work, preparation, good sportsmanship, fitness, love for the game, and dedication to a purpose can override extreme hardships and heartbreaks. I learned most of all that there are five main ingredients to a good life: (1) relationships, (2) education, (3) opportunity, (4) moral decisions, and (5) the grace of God.

Basketball opened a world a vast world to me. Some of my teammates might be surprised to know that I raised cows in the 4-H Club or that I competed in tennis and volleyball, and am presently knocking a golf ball down the course with some degree of accuracy. They also might be surprised to know that at the age of 67, I hiked across the Grand Canyon for four days and three nights, carrying a backpack that weighed about 40 pounds. Hiking the Grand Canyon was something I had wanted to do for years because I love nature with about the same intensity I loved basketball. Nature gives me a sense of the beauty, power, and magnificence of the Creator. If I could not have played basketball, my next choice would have been to work with nature and wildlife in some way.

My story would not be complete if I did not thank the many people who have opened so many doors for me. My parents (Milton and Margaret Neal), and my sister (Peggy Neal Bond) constantly encouraged me. My sister, Peggy, a very talented artist, is still my biggest fan.

Both of my coaches in high school were women (Louise Sherriff and Carolyn Miller), and they gave me a basic foundation of fundamentals as well as a healthy psychological approach to competition. My coach at Wayland, Harley Redin, was a basketball genius and a true gentleman (not once did I hear him swear or make an offensive remark). Harley taught me there is no substitute for preparation and practice, and that you must earn what you get if it is to have value in your life. And, if it were not for the generosity of Claude and Wilda Hutcherson (sponsors of the Queens) who opened their home to us as part of their family, and who provided the finest in uniforms, hotels and food as we traveled, Wayland would never have been part of my history, and my life would have been mundane and unfulfilled. A special thanks to my teammates, who through their unselfishness, made me look better than I actually was and a grateful thanks to the AAU, basically led by men, who provided national and international competition for women at a time when sports for women were almost non­existent. And of course, my playing would not have been the same without the dedicated fans, officials, referees, team managers, and administrators. Outside of basketball, I must thank my teachers and Professors for an excellent education, which has proven invaluable, especially in my writing projects. Last, but not least, I want to thank the newspaper that printed the few sentences about Wayland Baptist College winning the 1956 National AAU Championship. If it were not for those few sentences, I would not be writing this today because I would not have known that there were two roads that diverged—and I had a life-changing choice.

Thank you all—and God bless.

Patsy Neal

Wayland Grad 1960

Flying Queens Forever!