Basketball

A movie is in the works about Iowa girls' high school basketball, which at one point was more popular than the boys' game thanks to the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union. Iowa has the girls' only exclusive athletic association in the country. 

MAYNARD, Iowa — Amid the Iowa patchwork of cornfields that roll into horizons and barns adorned with painted quilts, there’s talk of making a Hollywood movie about a 1950s high school basketball championship.

Last weekend, the chatter rekindled memories as members of the 1956 state champion girls team met in tiny Maynard with the Iowa-born author of a book about their season and with the Indiana-based screenwriter who is working on a screenplay.

"Everybody's really excited about it for a small town," said Justin Walton, who lives near the 500-resident Maynard. "It's great. You can see the smiles on the faces, you can see the people lapping it up. It's bringing back the great glory days."

In 1956, the Maynard Blue Devils girls team won the state title under a single-class system. The leading scorer, the late Carolyn Nicholson Borland, was the mother of Brian J. Borland, author of "Maynard 8 Miles." His family farm was eight miles from the Maynard school in northeastern Iowa.

Borland, now 54, didn't know of his mother's fame until 2006 when he overheard his parents talk about a 50-year reunion of the team.

"I looked at my mom and said, 'What state championship?' She looked at me and said, 'Well, me and your aunt Glenda played basketball for Maynard and won the state championship," Borland recalled.

"I found out that weekend that 15,000 people were at the championship game and my mom was in the Hall of Fame, a scoring legend," Borland said.

After writing the book, he was urged by former University of Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan to pursue a movie deal. Borland's father, Glenn, had played for Wisconsin. Ryan had gone so far as to be quoted: "This is better than 'Hoosiers.'"

The book ended up in the hands of Angelo Pizzo, the Bloomington, Ind. native who wrote the screenplay for "Hoosiers." Pizzo attended the gathering at West Central School in Maynard.

Much of the recent chatter was not unlike that heard in rural central Indiana where the Oscar-nominated movie "Hoosiers" was filmed, based on a 1954 high school basketball team. Instead of the real Milan team in Indiana being named in the film, Pizzo created the fictional town of Hickory.

"I will be conscious of not repeating myself. I'm trying very hard not to do the same kind of things," said Pizzo, who has written more than two dozen screenplays.

"'Hoosiers' was told from the coach's point of view. He was an outsider coming into a strange land, a strange place," Pizzo said. "The canvas of other characters, players and other adult characters, they kind of played out interacting with him and from his vantage point.

"I'm not going to do the coach's story. Just in that regard it will seem likely a totally different movie, honestly, because my themes are not the same," Pizzo added. "I don't know what the themes are yet. I didn't know what the themes of 'Hoosiers' were until I got to the end of the movie. I find the themes later."

Among distinctions, the story features Iowa female athletes, not Hoosier boys. Girls in Iowa played 6-on-6. Offensive players could only dribble twice. Defense and offense kept to their halves of the court. After a team made a basket, the ball would go to half court where a ref would hand it to the other team.

In the early 1950s, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights started banning 6-on-6 high school girls’ basketball. However, it wasn’t until 1993 that Iowa replaced the game with 5-on-5 to match colleges.

Borland is also aware of the likely comparisons with "Hoosiers," released in 1986.

“I don’t necessarily like to compare this to 'Hoosiers' but a lot of people do," Borland said.

“What I think what the bigger story here is, this is before Title IX, and this is about women’s rights and this is about the strengths and the dreams and the hopes of these young Iowa girls that wanted to be completely different than the boys game," Borland said.

Members of the team agreed that their story can leave a distinct message.

"I guess I've always been a proponent for women, period," former team forward Glenda Nicholson, aunt of Brian Borland, recalled. "The Maynard fans would come for the girls game. The girls played first and then the boys. They came and watched the girls and then they left. It was unique."

A thriving small city in the 1950s, Maynard now consists of a Casey’s General Store; a community library; three churches (Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian); a grain elevator and an all-grades West Central school that includes 81 students in grades 9 through 12. The district opened a new gym for its Blue Devils last year, built on the site used by the 1956 girls team.

Last weekend, Pizzo and Borland drove around the area, taking a look at the farm owned formerly owned by Borland’s parents. Pizzo walked around the 1.02-square-mile Maynard.

One resident asked Pizzo what he thought of Maynard.

“Well, there’s not much to react to,” he acknowledged, smiling, “I had more questions about the farm.”

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