The turning point in women’s sports might not have been the landmark Title IX legislation or even the rise of global superstars in women’s tennis and basketball.
Rather, it might have taken place on the campus of a small, conservative, Southern Baptist college in a small Texas Panhandle town in the early 1950s.
It’s not just that Wayland Baptist University’s Hutcherson Flying Queens are the best women’s college basketball program ever. More importantly, the school and the surrounding farm town of Plainview treated the Flying Queens like royalty, giving them resources that men’s teams of the period could only dream about.
“It had everything to do with the school’s leadership,” said Linda Price, a former player and now head of the Hutcherson Flying Queens Foundation, which finds ways to support the team. “J.W. Marshall, the president at the time, was a forward-thinking guy. He knew and believed women could do this and should have an equal opportunity to do this.”
When the school ran out of money for women’s basketball in 1948, local business owners Claude and Wilda Hutcherson offered to help.
The couple owned Hutcherson Air Service, a Plainview-based charter and freight company. The team’s nickname was changed from the Harvest Queens to the Hutcherson Flying Queens (the school’s other teams are known as Pioneers), and the Hutchersons became the program’s benefactors.
The Hutcherson Flying Queens became the first school in America to fly to all out-of-town games thanks to the Hutcherson fleet. The Hutchersons paid for meals, lodging, uniforms, equipment and other needed items.
“We even had travel clothes,” Price said. “We’d wear matching blazers and skirts. People at airports would ask for our autographs because they thought we looked like stars.”
More significantly, thanks to Marshall’s commitment and the Hutcherson’s largesse, the Flying Queens became the first team to offer full scholarships to every player. This was in the early 1950s, 20 years before any other school in America offered even partial scholarships for women’s sports.
While the quality of the treatment of women players was unique for the 1950s, Wayland’s emphasis on women’s basketball was not.
The Texas Panhandle, along with rural Oklahoma, form a longtime stronghold for the girl’s game. In that world, with no women’s basketball on the horizon — literally, given the region’s desolation — Wayland Baptist represented the Promised Land for small-town girls.
“From the time I was a little,” Price said, “Wayland was my dream school.”
Prices’ dream came true when she played in an all-star game in the small town of Lindsay, Oklahoma. Harley Redin, Wayland’s winningest coach, offered her a scholarship after the game.
Price, who now lives in Houston, played from 1966-69, graduating early and forgoing her last year of eligibility.
Wayland first played women’s hoops in 1910, the year the school opened. The Harvest Queens were a club team that played high schools and any opponent it could find.
The team moved to the AAU in 1948, at a time when it was the premier basketball league in the world. By the time they left the AAU in 1976, the Flying Queens had won 10 national championships, placed second nine times, and finished third in three seasons. Along the way, the school produced 85 All-Americans.
Before the NCAA’s hand was forced by Title IX, the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, or AIAW, oversaw women’s sports. Joining the AIAW in 1977, Wayland made it to the Final Four three times, finishing third in 1976 and fourth in 1978 and 1982. In both 1974 and 1975, they won the consolation bracket.
The success continues. The Flying Queens are currently the NAIA’s 13th-ranked team.
That’s all impressive, but that’s not even the best of it.
Wayland is the winningest women’s basketball program ever, having won its 1,600th game last season. Tennessee, long considered the gold standard for the women’s game, had 1,342 wins going into Thursday night’s game against Auburn.
From 1953-58, the Flying Queens did not lose. That’s 131 straight games, the longest streak ever for women’s college basketball. The runner-up Connecticut Huskies saw their longest winning streak end last year at 111 games.
This is the place in the column where you would expect to read how Redin and the Hutcherson Flying Queens were enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in honor of their accomplishments.
You would be mistaken.
While the 1953-58 teams and eight individual Queens are in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has not come calling.
What the heck?
Redin and Wayland Baptist are Naismith nominees for a third consecutive year, among a group of men and women who aren’t nearly as accomplished.
It would be great if the Naismith Hall of Fame, the self-proclaimed “Hoops Heaven” which claims to “honor and celebrate basketball’s greatest moments and people” finally did its job.