I’m lobbying hard for the Wayland Baptist Flying Queens to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. I’m doing this both because they belong there and for very personal reasons.
First, the facts, the belonging part:
- Wayland is the first, and at this point the only, women’s team in collegiate history to win over 1500 games (currently 1,553).
- The Flying Queen’s 131-game winning streak is the longest winning streak in basketball history. Period. The team went undefeated from November 1953 to March 1958.
Now on to the personal reasons…
I grew up pre-Title IX, a time when strength and athleticism in women were viewed with skepticism, to say the least.
For example, I grew up playing the demeaning form of basketball referred to as six-on-six or basquette. Each team had six players instead of five; three forwards and three guards. Under no circumstances was a forward allowed to cross into the guard’s side of the court or a guard to cross into a forward’s. The reason, according to my junior high school gym teacher was that women are too delicate to run the full court. Plus, it might make us sweat, which is unladylike.
In the 1955 image to the right, note the young women in the striped, plain white, and checked shirts, consigned to stand around and watch the action from afar. Which, to me, is a pretty good example of what it meant to be ladylike.
Not being inherently ladylike, I always chose to play defense. And I still remember how shocked my friends on the other team’s offense were when I actually played defense… i.e. muscled the ball away from them.
According to Wikipedia, the Office of Civil Rights started looking at banning six-on-six high school girls basketball in 1958. It only took 37 years to phase it out.
But getting back to the Flying Queens of Wayland Baptist…
My good friend, Dr. Sylvia Nadler, is a Wayland Baptist graduate who, for a time, was both the Athletic Director and chair of the University’s physical education department. This quiet, modest woman was the first and only female to be chosen as NAIA National Athletics Administrator of the Year when men and women were both up for the award. The NAIA now makes two separate awards, one for men and one for women.
Before I met Sylvia, I had never heard of either Wayland Baptist or the Flying Queens. As neither, I suspect, have you.
So, to give you just a snippet of their story, I’ll borrow from Jeré Longman’s 2010 New York Times article and about the team and to help you post-Title IXers gain perspective:
…“We played ball and had fun; the gym was never locked,” said Cookie Barron, 75, who graduated from Wayland in 1957 without losing a game. “There wasn’t much else to do. They wouldn’t let you dance, drink or smoke.”
This conservatism made Wayland Baptist — in Plainview, Tex., between Lubbock and Amarillo — seem an improbable pioneer and unlikely winner of 10 A.A.U. titles, said Betty Courtney Donaldson, who played at Wayland in the mid-1960s and later became a vice president of the university.
“That culture was almost a dichotomy,” Courtney Donaldson said. “On one hand, it was sit in the back row and keep your mouth shut. On the other hand, it was liberal enough to allow women to participate in basketball and be successful.”
Look at the 1953 (?) photo on the left.
I do not for one instant think those young women are concerned about sweating. I think they are concerned about winning. Which makes them, in my book, not just basketball champs worthy of induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame, but true feminist pioneers — part of that wave of wonderful, mystique-busting women who let us out of the hell of remaining ladylike into the joyous, competitive, sweat-filled fray of full-court everything.