The history of Weatherford College women's basketball success is best described in three words.
McClung, Graber and McKinley, as in Martha, Betty Jo and Bob, the only three coaches the Lady Coyotes have had in more than six decades.
McClung revived the dormant program in 1951, turning the reins over the Graber in 1956, who in turn passed the torch to McKinley in 1991.
All three are still active. All still live in Weatherford, and all are good friends. In fact, they visit regularly at the weekly WC Basketball Booster Club meetings each Thursday.
"They have always had winning teams," said longtime fan Norman Morton, who has been there for all three of the coaching tenures. "My wife played for Martha, and that got it started. They've been winning, and I've been going ever since. I've been to five national tournaments. I've always enjoyed the heck out of it."
As have many people in and around Weatherford, including the legendary coaching trio and their many players.
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THE MCCLUNG ERA
"We always had a fun time," said McClung. "Some girls from Peaster and Poolville were enemies in high school, but when they got here they became friends.
"These were country girls, but they could play basketball."
McClung said the program started back up after her husband Bill was hired to teach accounting. They asked if he knew of anyone who could develop and teach the women's physical education program, and he recommended his wife.
The team wasn't known as the Lady Coyotes that first season. They were the “Cayettes,” and it wasn't until the next season that the college provided them with uniforms, McClung said.
But word soon got around Parker County and the surrounding area that if a high schooler wanted to continue playing basketball, they now had a place in their own backyard where they could do so.
One problem, there weren't any other junior colleges around with teams at the time. So, McClung and her players had to improvise.
"We had to play some high schools. We even played Wayland (Baptist), the Flying Queens," she said. "They had a three-time All-American who was 5-foot-11. Now we have girls who are 6-4, 6-5 and taller."
McClung and her girls would play anyone who would take the court against them - or who would let them come to their court to play. With her husband Bill as an assistant coach (he'd later assist Graber also), they'd hit the highway on their way to the next game in a caravan down the road.
"We would take private cars and drive everywhere," said McClung. "One of us would lead the others. We couldn't get separated or we'd be in trouble.
"A certain song would come on the radio and all the girls would holler because it was Elvis. We just had a great time."
This was, of course, long before the gym that is now named after Graber. Games were played in the old wooden gym on South Main Street.
"There was no electric scoreboard," said McClung. "We would have a student who would put up a score on an old chalkboard.
"We had a concession stand the basketball girls kept up. I remember we sold tuna fish sandwiches."
As for the competition, over time the Lady Coyotes began to enter a few tournaments. As time went on, their reputation grew, and they found opponents such as Texarkana Junior College, Paris Junior College, Arkadelphia Junior College, and Howard Payne College. Still, schedules were a far cry from those of today's teams.
"We were good. We just had to pick teams to play," said McClung. "We were just playing basketball, enjoying playing for WC."
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THE GRABER ERA
In 1956, McClung decided to quit coaching to put more focus on her family. She had the perfect replacement, that is if she could get her to take the job.
"When Martha came to ask me if I would be interested in coming to WC to teach freshman biology lab, teach physical education and coach women's basketball, after only teaching physical education and coaching girls' volleyball and basketball at Weatherford High two years, I didn't know if I was ready to move on," Graber recalled.
Graber, in fact, initially saw it as perhaps a chance to get more money out of her current job, where she was very happy.
"They were offering $3,200 a year at the college, and I was making $2,800," she said. "I would have stayed if they matched the college. The superintendent at Weatherford High helped me when he said it was an opportunity I should not pass up," she said. "I realized it was an opportunity I should accept.
"Bill McClung, who was helping with basketball, stepped in as my mentor the first few years of coaching and gave me sound advice."
Like her predecessor, Graber found it difficult to fill a regular schedule. Some other junior colleges had also started playing, but games could still be a challenge to find - and get to.
"I found that was my biggest concern, finding teams to play by mail," said Graber.
"The recruiting of players was easier because Parker County was strong in girls high school basketball, like today, and many wanted to go to WC for an education and play basketball."
It was during the Graber era that the ladies switched to a 5-on-5 format like the men, the same format used in today's games.
The women's game was much different than the men back then. High schools played 6-on-6 with three guards on one end of the court and three forwards on the other. Only the forwards could shoot.
Graber said college teams played according to what was called "all women's rules." Games featured an unbalanced court with two stationary offensive players, two defensive players, and two rovers.
The change from what was known as “basquette” to the current format began in 1968 throughout America for high schools and colleges. It became official in Texas in 1978, with the last states to make the change being Iowa in 1993 and Oklahoma in 1995.
All the while, Graber's teams, like McClung’s, traveled where they could to play games, also welcoming to town anyone wanting a game. Still, there was no overall championship to win.
"Before 1975 we had some outstanding teams, but we just didn't have a conference or national championship to play for," said Graber.
That changed in the mid-1970s. The National Junior College Athletic Association created a women's division, and it wasn't long before the Lady Coyotes made themselves a national presence.
Graber's 1975 and 1976 squads advanced to the first two NJCAA National Tournaments. They finished fifth each season, ushering in a new era of success for Weatherford College women's hoops.
Graber chaired the Women's Basketball Committee from the inception of the NJCAA Women's Division in 1975 until her retirement. Additionally, she helped to establish the NJCAA Women's Basketball Coaches Association and is one of the winningest inactive coaches in NJCAA women's basketball. She was also named National Coach of the Year in 1980 and was inducted in the inaugural class of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.
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THE MCKINLEY ERA
In 1991, one coach on her way to the hall of fame turned the helm over to another who would also get there. Graber retired and McKinley took over the women's program. He had been coaching the WC men since 1977.
As of this summer, Weatherford College is the only school to have two inductees in the NJCAA Women’s Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, Graber in 1998 and McKinley in 2015.
McKinley is now the longest-tenured coach in WC history, in his 39th season. He is approaching 900 career victories, has won 14 conference championships and has been named conference Coach of the Year 11 times. Four times McKinley has taken the Lady Coyotes to the NJCAA Tournament: 1997, 2002, 2004 and 2013.
The current coach of the Lady Coyotes credits his predecessors with creating the opportunity for the program to grow to its current success.
"It has to be part of a continuum," he said. "From then until now, there have been very few teams that weren't successful. When you have that steady success, it feeds itself."
In fact, only once in his time at the helm has McKinley had a team that didn't qualify for the regional tournament.
"Tradition helps in any situation like that," he said. "It's a really big part of any program. Kids want to come play where there is a history of winning."
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STILL FRIENDS AFTER ALL THESE YEARS
Each week at the booster club meeting, they can be found, laughing, smiling, exchanging tales. Not only have McClung, Graber and McKinley left a legacy of winning at WC and the community, they have shown folks what it is like to nurture a friendship over many years.
"It's really neat to come to the booster club and they're there," said McKinley. "It's something I look forward to each week."
That kind of warm feeling is a big reason McKinley, McClung and Graber never pursued another job at a larger school.
"We're part of the community, not just someone who came in to win some games and move on," said Martha.
"I think all three of us found a home we liked," said Graber. "No, I never considered leaving. I was happy and liked the challenging position I had."
To this day, McClung and Graber are regulars at Lady Coyote games, cheering on their favorite team and good friend.
"I think it's an impressive situation for a school to have such a great history and only three coaches in that span," said McKinley. "Weatherford College must be doing something right."
by Rick Mauch
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