Only a few seconds remained in regulation of the 1954 National AAU Women’s Basketball championship game and with her team trailing by one point, Duncanville, Texas sophomore Faye Wilson of the Hutcherson Flying Queens stepped to the line for two free throws.
A year earlier, the Flying Queens from Wayland Baptist (Plainview, Texas) lost to Hanes Hosiery (S.C.) in the national finals in St.
Joseph, Mo. and Wilson and her twin sister, Raye didn’t want to be bridesmaids in consecutive years.
“Faye made those free throws that night and we had beaten the K.C. Dons, 39-38, and we were national champs,” said Paula Baisch Westfall with a smile who was a freshman guard on that team from Dunlap, Tenn.
The Dons had beaten three-time defending national champion Hanes Hosiery in the national semis to end their 102-game win streak, but Wilson’s heroics saved a similar fate and gave Wayland Baptist a 29-0 season.
Far from one-hit-wonders, the Flying Queens won three more national titles (1954-55-56-57) and compiled a 131-game win streak from the fall of 1953 to the spring of 1958.
A longtime Chattanooga resident and elementary school teacher for more than 40 years in Tennessee, South Carolina and Catoosa County (Ga.), Westfall and her Flying Queens teammates were honored in July 2013 as “Trailblazers of the Game” by the Women’s National Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville and now there is a documentary being made on the Wayland Baptist championship teams.
Today in Denver, Colo.: ”This afternoon, Westfall and three other Flying Queens who were part of those four national championships are in Denver, Colo. with approximately 20 other former Wayland Baptist players from other eras for the initial screening of the documentary by Aperture Art Productions, a film by award-winning director Kellie Mitchell. For more information go to www.flyingqueens.com.
From Dunlap to Plainview Texas: A star basketball player for Sequatchie County High School - she averaged 29 points a game as a senior (1952-53) - and was the school’s female athlete of the year, Westfall made her way to Plainview and the Wayland Baptist campus on a minister’s scholarship.
So with two suitcases in hand and plenty of hardwood talent, the then 17-year-old Westfall boarded a bus in Jasper and took the 36-hour ride to the Texas Panhandle.
A bus ride which as lead to women’s basketball history for the teen from Dunlap as the Flying Queens name and photos are on permanent display at the women’s basketball hall of fame.
The Hutcherson Flying Queens: Once Westfall arrived on campus and made the varsity squad, the bus rides were few and far between as, except for games within easy driving distance, the team arrived for away games in style as Claude Hutcherson flew the players in four Beechcraft Bonanza planes, thus the team name.
“I played for Wayland Baptist just my freshman year, but the memories of being part of that great team which won the national championship are special,” said Westfall whose dad died in February 1954 so she returned home that summer, later graduated from Middle Tennessee State and earned a Master Degree in education from Peabody College in Nashville.
“My dad was a Baptist preacher in Dunlap so I was able to go to college on a scholarship and play basketball,” stated the 79-year-old retired teacher. “But when he died the scholarship was no longer available so I came home.”
Dress Codes: “As you can imagine in the mid 1950s at a Baptist college, we had to wear dresses whenever we left the dorms except at basketball practice where shorts were allowed and we could only go out one night a week (besides Wednesday Night prayer meetings) after homework was done,” she stated.
“But I talked to the Dean of Students during the fall semester and the school changed the rule allowing straight A students to go out several nights a week beginning that spring semester. It also didn’t hurt maters since I was dating the Dean’s nephew,” Westfall said with a laugh.
The Flying Queens opponents didn’t think life on the court was a laughing matter as night after night the ladies from Wayland Baptist prayed before the game and then beat up on all comers to win those four straight national titles.
Another Flying Queen from Tennessee: Patsy Neal who lives in Morristown, Tenn. and a native of Elberton, Ga., played for the Flying Queens, 1957-60 and was an All-American in 1959, ’60.
“I was fortunate to be a freshman on the 1957 championship team, but also was on the 1958 team which lost in the national semis which ended the long win streak,” said Neal who was a member of the 1959 Pan American gold medal winning team and captain of the 1964 U.S. World team.
“We were devastated to lose that semifinal game and have the win streak come to an end, but we worked hard the next season and won it all in 1959.”
While at Wayland Baptist, she was Homecoming Queen, student body president and graduated Cum Laude with a major in psychology.
She served two years as executive of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville for two years and as inducted into the hall in 2003 and the National AAU Women’s Basketball hall in 1983.
Three Dominant AAU Teams: For two decades – 1950-1969 – three teams won 20 national AAU titles; Nashville Business College, Wayland Baptist Hutcherson Flying Queens and Hanes Hosiery,
* Hanes Hosiery – national titles (3): 1951-52-53 ... won 102 straight games … K.C. Dons beat Hanes in 1954 national semis to end the streak.
Key Players: Eunice "Eunies" Futch (6-2) and Evelyn "Eckie" Jordan (5-2) .. Jordan was a five-time All-American and Fulch earned the same honor three years. The led the U.S. to the 1955 Pan American Games gold medal.
Hanes Hosiery had sponsored a men's team since 1920. The company president Jim Weeks had a 2,000 seat gym built in 1940 and a women’s team was formed in 1945.
* Wayland Baptist – national AAU titles (10): 1954-55-56-57-59-61-71-72-74-75 … also had 10 national runner-up finishes … also known as the Hutcherson Flying Queens … one of four teams which has been recognized by the National Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame as “Trailblazers of the Game” in 2013
The Hutcherson Flying Queens holds national record of longest win streak: 131 in a row … Nov.7, 1953 to national quarterfinals in 1958 …
1954: 29-0 … 1955: 23-0 … 1956: 23-0 … 1957: 29-0 … 1958: (28-1) won 27 in a row before loss in national semis and then won third place game. The 1954 team had two All-Americans in Ruth Cannon and Lometa Odom
The 1954 team was coached by Caddo Matthews 1954 and later by Harley Redin. Claude Hutcherson flew the team to away games in Beechcraft Bonanza airplanes.
* Nashville Business College: national AAU titles (11): 1950-1958-60-62-63-64-65-66-67-68-69
John Head was the coach for 22 years, 1948-1969 and led NBC to 11 national titles with four second place finishes (three of those to Wayland Baptist) ..
Head was the coach of the U.S. World Championship teams in 1953 and 1957 and led the Americans to the 1963 Pan American Games gold medal in 1963. He was inducted into the inaugural class of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.
Nera White: The star for NBC was Nera White who was a 15-time AAU All-American (1955-69) and nine-time national tournament most valuable player.
The Macon County, Tenn. native led the U.S. to the world championship in 1957 and she was voted best player in the world. White was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.
Contact B.B. Branton at email@example.com