The real story here is that there was almost no story. Glenn and Carolyn Borland were of an era that did not encourage boasting. Even their kids didn’t know the half of it.
“They just didn’t talk about it,” Brian Borland was saying last week.
On a January day in 2006, Brian was visiting his parents at their home in Madison and overheard them discussing an invitation to return to Iowa, where they had grown up in small towns eight miles apart.
The invite had to do with a reunion of Carolyn’s 1956 high school girls basketball team. Carolyn’s school was in Maynard, population 458.
She asked Brian if he wanted to go with them to the reunion, which would be in Des Moines, site of the high school state tournament.
Brian went to the reunion. What he saw there, what he learned about his mother, astonished him. It set Brian on a course to learn more, which he did, about his parents, and about the phenomenon that was high school girls basketball in the state of Iowa.
At some point, Brian decided it was a story that needed to be preserved. He’s written a book, “Maynard 8 Miles,” just published, that counts among its early admirers Jim Doyle, the former Wisconsin governor. Doyle played basketball for a school team coached by Glenn Borland, and he knew Carolyn, too.
“This is the story they were too modest to tell,” Doyle writes in a foreword to “Maynard 8 Miles.”
It’s a love story and a basketball story, but it begins at a summer softball game. Glenn was 18 and about to head to the University of Wisconsin on a basketball scholarship. Carolyn Nicholson was 16 and getting ready for her senior year of high school. As star athletes, each had heard of the other — Glenn lived eight miles from Maynard, in Oelwein — but they weren’t introduced until the softball game that summer. Before long, they were dating, and married in 1957, when Carolyn joined Glenn in Madison.
Carolyn’s senior year at Maynard — fall 1955 through spring 1956 — proved memorable. She loved basketball. Her father had put a hoop in the hayloft on their farm when Carolyn was 8. Her sister Glenda, a year younger, enjoyed the game, too.
But although girls basketball was huge in Iowa — Brian Borland includes a chapter on its amazing popularity — Maynard didn’t have a team, not in the 1940s. Undaunted, Carolyn and Glenda put some words on their bedroom wall: “Maynard State Champs 1956.” Then in 1950, the school board approved a girls team.
By 1956, Carolyn’s last season at Maynard, she was one of the best players in Iowa. She scored 52 points in one game as a junior and made third-team All-State. Her senior season, both Carolyn and Glenda, then a junior, were on pace to score 1,000 points if they made it all the way to the state tournament final. No teammates had ever done that.
Maynard made it to the tournament final. It was hard not to think back a decade, the prediction in their bedroom, when Maynard lacked even a team. Walking through a hotel lobby the morning of the final, Carolyn spotted a newspaper headline: “Maynard the favorite, Carolyn needs 21.” Glenda had already gone over 1,000 points, Carolyn was 21 short.
Nearly 15,000 fans were in the arena for the Maynard vs. Garrison final. Garrison’s strategy was to collapse its defenders around Glenda around the basket, leaving Carolyn open at the perimeter. It was a mistake. Carolyn scored 25 points — topping 1,000 — and Maynard won the title game, 62-51. Carolyn was named captain of the all-tournament team.
Up in Madison, the man she would soon marry, Glenn Borland, was playing basketball for the Badgers. He developed a deadly left-handed hook shot, and was named team captain his junior season. Years later, for his accomplishments as a player, coach and administrator, Borland would be named to the Madison Sports Hall of Fame.
Yet because they never really talked about it, even their three children never really understood what they had accomplished, particularly Carolyn, on those high school courts in Iowa. Many of her Madison friends didn’t even know she’d played basketball.
It began to change only in 2006, at the 50th anniversary reunion in Des Moines of the Maynard championship season. The 1956 team was honored at halftime of the 2006 championship game. At an earlier breakfast, Carolyn was seated next to the governor. Brian watched it all, stunned. His mom was a legend in Iowa high school basketball.
Brian began doing interviews, with his mom, and with her coach and teammates, a project that took on greater urgency when Carolyn was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in February 2009. That September, the family made one last trip to Maynard. They saw the gym where Carolyn had starred. A plaque announced she had scored 3,079 points in her high school career.
Finally, Brian asked, “Mom, why didn’t you tell us?”
Carolyn replied, “It was no big deal.”
Carolyn died two months later. Now Brian has combined her memories and his dad’s — Glenn is still living in the Madison area — with his own research, and produced a heartfelt tribute. He’ll sign copies of “Maynard 8 Miles” at Babes, 5614 Schroeder Road, from 4 to 7 p.m. March 1. Brian will offer books to students at half-price that day, to encourage their own dreams, a nod to the young Iowa girl who put some words on her wall about a state championship when her school didn’t even have a team.