Flying Queen

1954-57

Rita Alexander Colman

Rita Alexander Colman, played for the Hutcherson Flying Queens from 1954-1957. Her life story was beautifully written by her granddaughter, Alicia Chatten. It was titled “From the Court to the Consulate.” We are pleased to be able to share the story with all of you!

The year, 1952. The place, a small town in southern Oklahoma. A student from Loco High sits with her paternal grandmother, too nervous to say much. She had just been scolded by her mother, and didn’t want to rebel against familial expectations and upset her but still wanted to take the risk. She’d been offered a way out, a chance at an education, a chance to break out of the pattern she was stuck in. Whatever words were said in that small room in the small town in the middle of nowhere were words that would eventually have an impact on the entire country.

All I can say for sure is that the student was named Loretta Alexander but she much preferred to be called Rita. Her mother did not want her to step foot out of their small corner of Oklahoma. Her duty, her mother said, was to stay at home, get married, and have kids. This is what the women of her family had done for generations. Her grandmother, my great- great grandmother, had something different in mind. She wanted Rita to take the offer put forth by the scout that had showed up to a game at her small high school gymnasium. She wanted my grandmother to accept a full scholarship to go to college and play basketball.

Against her mother’s wishes and against the expectations of everyone else in the state, my grandmother decided she would go to college. She wanted more than the books her grandmother had on her shelf to learn from, but more than that, she wanted to play basketball. By the time the scouts had found her at her high school, she was already well known on the circuit. By her second game at Wayland, she was starting, and the rest of her career fell into place. She would become a two-time All American and win 104 games in a row–playing on teams that won Wayland’s first four Amateur Athletic Union national championships. She never lost once, not while she was wearing a Hutcherson Flying Queens uniform at Wayland Baptist College.

Unfortunately, most of the leadership of college coaches in nationwide basketball organizations thought that basketball was harmful for women’s health. At Wayland, the support from the coaches and sponsors became a solid base for the team’s success. Harley Redin, the coach of the team from 1956-1973, would eventually get his way. Maybe not directly, and it took a lot of persistence, but he was the reason for a number of progressive rule changes in the women’s game. The continuous unlimited dribble, the 30-second clock, and the five-player, full-court game are all thanks to Redin. His drive and dedication inspired his athletes to give him just as much dedication back. While superintendents of school districts argued that “if a girl ran too fast, her uterus would fall out,” Redin pushed his team to peak performance. He ran the clock in practice to get the team ready for high-stress situations and simulated real games as much as he could so that the women could be as prepared as possible. If he had been pushing them too hard and their uteruses really were falling out, my mother would never have been born, nor would I exist, because my grandmother ran and my grandmother ran fast. The fact that Redin was advocating for full-court women’s basketball was scandalous at the time and at the World Tournament in Rio there were members of the US national team who struggled to run the full length of the court because that wasn’t the way that they had practiced. So, until Title IX came around in 1972, the only people to fight for women’s basketball were the Flying Queens, Harley Redin, and the man whose name was on the uniforms.

The jerseys at Wayland Baptist didn’t read “Wayland”. Instead, the team was called the “Hutcherson Flying Queens,” named for Claude Hutcherson—a banker, charter pilot and entrepreneur. He had faith in this one women’s basketball team from Plainview, Texas, faith that was carried on by his own children. The financial and emotional support from the Hutcherson family continues even today. Hutcherson’s wife Wilda acted as a mentor to the entire team and provided extra support for these basketball players who would not have been able to go to college if it weren’t for their basketball scholarships. Not only would these women have money for uniforms, they would be able to fly to their games, so that they could go to tournaments and play teams outside of their scrimmages against themselves. Without Hutcherson’s planes, they wouldn’t have had games to play. This wasn’t because there weren’t any close-by colleges, or nearby schools with basketball teams, but because there were so few women’s basketball teams to begin with. The thing about Wayland College was that it was one of two four-year schools that had women’s basketball scholarships to begin with – the other was Iowa Wesleyan.

The 131-game streak accomplished by the Flying Queens is still the record in all of women’s collegiate basketball. There’s both immense pride and extreme pressure in a streak like that, but the team didn’t have anyone on it who was there to serve themselves – just the team.
Nobody ever yelled, nobody got mad whenever anyone made a mistake. After their four years on the court were up, the women of the Flying Queens continued to show dedication to the game. They became the first female administrators in their local school boards and started women’s athletic programs at local high schools, ran a number of athletic programs and coached basketball teams, were the first female basketball officials in their states, became presidents of symphonies, ballets, and arboretums, and got called to lead the women’s national basketball team in international championships.

When Rita Alexander got the call to co-captain the US Women’s basketball team at the World Tournament in Brazil, she was 21, had just left Wayland, and was teaching in Houston. She coached basketball and taught history, two things she loved. Defying her mother’s wishes again, she left for Brazil, met a Political Officer from the State Department stationed in Rio de Janeiro, married him in Oklahoma nine months later, took a train to New Orleans, and booked a room on a charter ship to make the three-week journey back to Rio. George Tilden Colman, Jr., my grandfather, gave my grandmother a Berlitz Self-Taught Portuguese book as a wedding present, the only thing she was armed with for the cross-continent move. She learned a new language, had to grow into a new culture, and before she knew it she had two kids.

No sooner had Rita settled into life in Brazil than the entire family left for Africa in a whirlwind that would not stop until just before I was born. My grandfather took assignments at hardship posts in Angola and Somalia, the latter forcing Rita to learn Italian after having just learned Portuguese. After the coup d’état in Somalia, which resulted in all the Americans getting kicked
out of the country, my grandfather accepted a post in Brazil without telling her. After Rio, the family moved to Virginia. My grandfather had managed to find my grandmother’s dream house, but they only spent half a year in it before they were forced to move on. Then came a year in Alabama, three years in Argentina in two different homes, and finally a move to Panama City, Panama.

Her kids, my mother and my aunt, got used to leaving homes and their friends behind fairly often. My aunt left from Argentina to go to college at William and Mary in Virginia, and eventually my mother left Panama for Lawrence University in Wisconsin. During my mother’s sophomore year of college, while she was abroad in Southern Spain, she got a call that she had to come back early, and head to Panama. Her father had died and she had to help her mom move to the United States. Every time the family moved, Vovó didn’t know where she would be going next. She didn’t know what would be in store. All she knew was that the risks she had taken had paid off. She trusted that they would continue to do so. She had moved away from her family, played a sport women weren’t “supposed” to play, and got married very quickly after she met my Vovô (grandfather).

Like any other grandmother, my Vovó just wants to boast about her grandkids. She doesn’t want to talk about herself, her travel, or her sports career. We call her Vovó, “Granny” in Portuguese, because my mom grew up speaking Portuguese. She’s been an intelligence analyst, a preschool teacher, an elementary school teacher, an administrative assistant, and many other things, but she wouldn’t have been any of them if it weren’t for her college basketball team.
Basketball was not the only risk that my grandmother ever took, but you could argue that it was what gave her the courage to take other risks in life. Basketball was what took her to Brazil, her teammates were what brought her and her late husband together, and her husband was what took her around the world after basketball. But if you talk to her, you’ll have to know to ask about sports, or they won’t come up except in jest.

In 2013, the team was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame as the “Trailblazers of the Game” with 74 All-Americans and 8 Hall of Fame inductees. But like any other former athlete, my grandmother’s life is no longer defined by the teams she led to victory around the Western Hemisphere. Now, she lives a quieter life. She makes me and my sister pancakes in the shapes of our initials, and goes to yoga on Friday. She goes shopping at Wal-Mart to buy tofu and enjoys outings to the orchestra. After growing up in Oklahoma, she’s settled down in Texas. Her awards from her All-American titles, four consecutive AAU national championships, the Pan- American Games, and the World Tournament all sit in shadow box in a side room, for people to see only if they know to ask.

Editor’s note: A special thanks to Rita’s granddaughter, Alicia Chatten, for sharing this story.

Rita Alexander Colman

Wayland Grad 1957

Flying Queens Forever!