First ladies

Conference champs. An NCAA tournament win. These triumphs of the female Frog cagers have not escaped English Prof. Bob Frye, TCU’s first coach of women’s basketball.

First ladies

Conference champs. An NCAA tournament win. These triumphs of the female Frog cagers have not escaped English Prof. Bob Frye, TCU’s first coach of women’s basketball.

Until the defeat of Penn State by the Horned Frogs in the NCAA tournament in March — climaxing the last couple of finally winning years under the excellent leadership of coaches Mike Peterson and Jeff Mittie — the TCU women’s basketball program had always made me think of Emily Dickinson’s poignant lyric:

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed,
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple host
Who took the flag to-day
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of victory, 

As [she], defeated, dying,
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear. 

I know, for I was the first TCU women’s varsity basketball coach — when our budget of $835 did not allow us even to resemble a TCU purple host. Some of our suits were blue, and four purple tops I found after scouring sporting goods stores in the Metroplex had no matching shorts — until my wife of now 44 years, Alice Swanner Frye ’88, found material at Herb Owens Fabrics for $8.82 and sewed up four pairs to match the tops. Although we worked hard in practice on team unity, when we suited up we seemed a hymn to diversity.

Vice Chancellor Emeritus Earl Waldrop asked me to coach the women’s varsity basketball team in the fall of 1974. He knew I had been on a basketball scholarship at Wayland Baptist College in West Texas, where the women’s basketball team, the Flying Queens, had dominated women’s basketball in the 1940-50s, winning 133 games in a row.

In 1974 at TCU, six women’s sports, plus riflery, moved from being extramurals to being varsity sports. Women’s swimming, gymnastics, tennis, basketball, track, golf, and riflery divided a budget of $18,422. I agreed to coach the women’s basketball team over and above my regular duties as associate professor of English. I was to be paid $1,000, given a total operating budget of $835, and soon organized tryouts at the Rickel Center. We had no scholarships, no uniforms, no basketballs; we were starting from scratch.

Johnny Swaim, head men’s basketball coach, kindly contributed four new basketballs, the TCU House of Representatives voted $50 for two more, and we began our practices in the Rickel Center, initially not being allowed to practice in Daniel-Meyer Coliseum. (I later convinced Athletic Director Abe Martin to let us practice in Daniel-Meyer — after the men’s team left the floor.) Some 22 young women showed up for the tryouts, including Vice Chancellor James Newcomer’s daughter Mary who promptly broke her arm; shortly thereafter I checked out of the TCU library Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking.

Fourteen young women made the team. Meanwhile, I worked out a 15-game schedule with local colleges and universities, made sure we were members of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women and arranged for use of two TCU station wagons for transportation. I drove one and Alice — my “TCU roommate” I fondly call her — drove the other.

On Dec. 6, we opened our season in Daniel-Meyer Coliseum by defeating Richland College of Dallas, 71-36. I checked in Peale’s book to the library. We lost our next game to Weatherford Junior College, 69-33. I checked Peale’s book back out again. Our overall record that inaugural season was 3-12.

I entered our team in the Tarleton State University Basketball Tournament at Stephenville. After we were defeated by West Texas State University on Friday, we had to drive our station wagons back to Fort Worth since we did not have the funds to spend the night. Our loss threw us into the consolation bracket, and we had to play a game at 8 o’clock the very next morning. Alice prepared breakfast for the 14 young women who met us at 5:30 a.m. in the dark at Daniel-Meyer for the drive through a heavy rain to Stephenville 90 miles away. There we lost to Texas Wesleyan, 47-32. On the drive back, we stopped in Granbury where I announced that our regular limit of $1.50 for meals would be waived, and we spent $2.50 apiece at the Nutt House Hotel and Restaurant buffet ; the young women ate all they wanted.

I frequently looked up from our bench in Daniel-Meyer to see five or six people, total, in the stands. I once told Johnny Swaim, the men’s coach who generously supported me, how much I appreciated his making up one-tenth of our bigger crowds. Hence you can perhaps understand why, when the new record attendance for Daniel-Meyer (for men or women) was announced at last fall’s women’s basketball game between my alma mater, the University of Tennessee, and TCU, that I alone among the thousands of cheering but sitting fans rose to my feet and stood for some time as I looked around at what, for the first women’s basketball team coach, was a remarkable scene.

I have received some attention for my classroom teaching, but some of my best teaching, I believe, was in helping young women, most of whom came from playing 3-on-3 on just one end of the court, often the rule in those days, to learn not only about left-hand layups and playing offense or defense for the first time in their lives, but also about teamwork and responsibility on and off the floor. One highlight of my brief TCU coaching career was to help a shy, 5’10” discouraged young woman from a small town gain the courage to go talk with her academic advisor; the player had simply been too timid to go. And that conference seemed to turn around her academic career.

Although our team was invited to Vice Chancellor Waldrop’s annual wild game banquet, we declined and had a quiet but meaningful cookout in my backyard at our home near campus. I invited UTA Professor Carla Lowry, a former Flying Queen and All-American, to speak to us. Then I gave each of the young women, our manager Sara Templeton, our trainer Robert Guerra, and Alice, a medallion with the TCU seal, the date, “wom bb” (abbreviated to save money) and personal initials etched on the back. The young women gave me a purple windbreaker with the TCU logo on front and “COACH FRYE” on the back. I was as proud of those young women — Terri Adam-son, Bette Sue Barry, Judy Coleman, Jeane Keith, Maggie Mabee, Donna NcNeese, Janice Merritt, Joy Mohler, Denise Rousseau, Denise Weber, Suzanne Wells, and Becky Young — as if they had just defeated Penn State. Perhaps their names, not abbreviated, belong on a plaque in the TCU Letterman’s Lounge to commemorate their contribution to the “distant strains of triumph” of 2001, for, to be sure, they helped prepare TCU for the definition, / So clear, of victory.