Gay Ivey Benson was pretty good at basketball in her time, but she’s amazed at the ability of today’s players.
"The girls they are getting are so awesome," said Benson, who was one of the inductees into the Northeastern A&M Athletic Hall of Fame. "They are so big; so tall and physical any more. You used to never see a 6-5 girl. They jump out of the gym.
"I am glad my playing days are over."
Benson — a 5-11 forward from Pettit, Texas — played in 1959 and 1960 for Jack Rucker’s Golden Girls. The team made back-to-back appearances in the Amateur Athletic Union national tournament in St. Joseph, Mo., going 29-5 and finishing fifth in Benson’s sophomore season.
Ivey earned AAU All-American honors in 1960, marking the first time an NEO female athlete had received that designation.
Also honored during Saturday’s ceremony in the Carter Student Union Ballroom were former Norse player and assistant coach John Tiger, 1963 NJCAA football All-American Richard Haynes, former Norse head football coach Glen Wolfe, former Norse men’s basketball coach Larry Gipson, contributors J.V. Haney and Bill Smith and the 1953 Golden Norse football team.
The 1959 national championship football team was also recognized for being inducted into the NJCAA Football Hall of Fame.
Benson still remembers Rucker.
"He was a great guy," said Benson, who worked for Rucker in his office in the English Department as part of her work-study responsibilities. "He was just a super person. I am sorry he wasn’t here to share this with me because he was an inspiration to me."
The 6-on-6 rules that AAU women teams played under were different from those that were utilized by Oklahoma high schools until the 1980s.
Benson said in AAU ball, teams had two stationary forwards, two stationary guards and two rovers.
“When you started on a fast break, if you had five instead of four, one of you would just run into the dressing room until they started back up,” she quipped.
Benson finished her playing career at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas, where she led the Flying Queens to a national championship in 1961.
Also in 1961, she was selected to play for the United States in a basketball series with the Soviet Union.
Benson became a successful girls’ coach in Texas, winning state championships at Slaton and Lubbock Monterey high schools.
She also was women’s coach at Texas Tech from 1977-80, posting a 67-47 record.
Benson retired in 2005.
“I am real glad to be back, but I didn’t know where anything was on campus,” Benson quipped. “I was wondering where our dormitory was. This is a beautiful campus.”
She remembers her first day in Miami.
“My father lived in New Mexico and he had an old beat-up pickup,” Benson said. “He let me out in front of the school by the rock fence. I found Coach Rucker’s office, found my dormitory — and found my home. I found some really special friends here in Oklahoma.
“We had a wonderful time and our friendship developed through these 50 years.”
NEO remains a very special place to Benson.
“You don’t realize it until you have been away for a while and then come back,” Benson said. “You start thinking, ‘dang, I went to the greatest place in the world’ and I didn’t even realize it while I was here.”