Herald Journal, Nov. 21, 2005
Daughters of the game: recalling the first era of girls basketball
By Liz Hellmann
Dorothy Borrell of Waverly has been a mother, grandmother, sister, and wife, but as she sat at her kitchen table one afternoon, she became a 16-year-old basketball player, once again.
Her eyes lit up as old memories of uniformed bloomers, after school games, and time spent with friends came to life.
Borrell is a daughter of the game. One of the many women who pioneered the first era of Minnesota girls’ high school basketball, but whose stories are being lost as fewer of these athletes remain.
Borrell finds it hard to remember some of the details, because she has no one to share memories with.
“It’s hard when you don’t talk about it. My older friends are far and few between,” Borrell said.
Teams like the one in Waverly might have been lost forever, had not two women set out to talk to women like Borrell.
Marian Johnson and Dorothy McIntyre, after digging up stories like Borrell’s around the state, compiled them in their book, “Daughters of the Game.”
The book pieces together the first era of Minnesota girls’ high school basketball, from 1891-1942, through the personal stories of those who participated.
St. Mary’s High School of Waverly, where Borrell made her basketball memories, is included in the book. Sister Ellen Joan Malone provided the information for Waverly’s chapter, covering the years 1931-33.
Borrell, who graduated in 1938, played after Malone, but remembers her well.
“She was very, very competitive. Wow,” Borrell said.
Borrell grew up across the street from Malone, and played on Waverly’s team with Malone’s two sisters, Cecilia ‘Ceil’ and Margaret.
Borrell enjoyed the competitiveness of the game, too; which she attributes to roughousing with her two brothers when she was younger.
“I just loved playing basketball,” Borrell said.
Although she loved the game, Borrell did not love the uniforms, and will never forget them. Before playing, the girls all stepped into one-piece bloomers. The bloomers consisted of shorts, with shortsleeved tops, connected by elastic at the waist.
“You had to step into them from the top, and then button them at the shoulder,” Borrell said.
Other details of the Waverly girls’ basketball team are recounted in the book by Malone.
The girls played a two-court game, travelled with the boys’ team, and received “great support from the whole village,” according to the book.
Malone, like Borrell, played in the old town hall, which has since then burned down.
Borrell remembers the narrow steps leading up to the court they played in.
While Malone played, the team was coached by Ches Ogle and Norman Fuller, and the girls played neighboring towns, including Winsted, Rockford, and Maple Lake.
Borrell doesn’t remember having coaches or playing other teams.
“We just played amongst ourselves,” Borrell said.
While it might seem strange that Borrell doesn’t remember playing other schools, when she played only a few years after Malone, it is very likely.
The truth is, Borrell was among the last girls to play on a team, before girls’ basketball was banned in Minnesota, according to the book.
The game was widespread from 1891 to the 1930s, but girls were forced to stop playing.
Some people thought the sport was not good for girls. Borrell recalls basketball in Waverly meeting opposition, especially from the nuns in the community.
“They thought it was too rough, not lady-like enough,” Borrell said.
In the mid-1920s, girls basketball met state and national opposition. The sport was deemed too competitive, having negative impacts on girls.
By 1942, all girls’ basketball teams in Minnesota had vanished.
Johnson and McIntyre grew up in the era when girls were not allowed to play basketball, which fueled their passion to write “Daughters of the Game.”
While there is no way to regain the years girls’ basketball lost, stories like Borrell’s and Malone’s make sure no one will forget its first era.
As Borrell flips through her old photo album and remembers a time when she could play, she is happy for the girls who can play today.
“I think it’s great; the camaraderie when girls can get together, and play together,” Borrell said.