If it were not for her time playing basketball with the All-American Red Heads, Sheryl Wood Borgman thinks her life would be completely different. She almost certainly wouldn’t have gone to college, which means she never would have become a high school English teacher, which means she never would have coached basketball, volleyball or softball. That softball team Borgman started at Faith Christian School in Lafayette, Indiana, where she currently teaches, wouldn’t exist.
“We had to speak. We had to perform,” Borgman said of her time with the All-American Red Heads. “It made me come out of my shell. It made me want to go to college. It made me want to try.”
A Clinton native and 1975 graduate of Lawrence High School, Borgman played for the Red Heads for two seasons, from 1976 to 1978. Not only did playing for the Red Heads get Borgman, then Sheryl Wood, to slip out of her shyness, it got her into two halls of fame.
The All-American Red Heads were a women’s basketball team that traveled the country playing against men’s teams. The team existed for 50 years, from 1936 to 1986.
Last year, the All-American Red Heads were inducted into the Naismath Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Last weekend, the Red Heads were inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in a ceremony in Worcester, Mass.
Borgman joined the Red Heads for the 1976-77 season, but only after turning down a shot with the team the season before. Her friend, Cony High School graduate Marcia Adams, joined the team in 1975, and All-American Red Heads founder Orwell Moore wanted Borgman, too.
Borgman, who had just started a job at the Harris Bakery and was very shy, declined the invitation.
“I had just started my job, and I had never seen the Red Heads play,” Borgman said. “I was pretty shy back then, and I didn’t want to give it a try, so I turned it down.”
A few months later, when Borgman saw the Red Heads play in Augusta, she realized she’d made a mistake.
“I said ‘Oh my lands, what have I done?’ ” Borgman said.
She followed the team for a few days. Adams made introductions, and the players encouraged Borgman to call Moore and ask for a spot for the next season.
“He said, ‘Well, all right, hotshot’ because he couldn’t believe I’d turned him down. He said I’d have to try out,” Borgman said.
In July, 1976, Adams and Borgman drove from Maine to the All-American Red Heads training camp in Holy Springs, Mississippi, where they played basketball outside from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Moore sent two teams on the road that season, and Borgman made one of them.
Borgman’s favorite game came at Gallaudet University, a school for deaf students in Washington, D.C. Prior to the game, each of the Red Heads learned how to say her name and a greeting in sign language.
“When the first girl signed her name, the place erupted,” Borgman said. “They appreciated that.”
In her two seasons with the Red Heads, playing exclusively against men, the team won almost 90 percent of its games, Borgman said. The Red Heads played a game at Lawrence, Borgman’s alma mater, where they won a close one. In two seasons, she traveled 114,000 miles.
Most of the time, Borgman played forward. Occasionally, she played center.
“I know I’m short in the big scheme of things, but I had a hook shot,” she said.
Each Red Head has a skill to demonstrate during the halftime show. Borgman’s was dribbling. She would dribble the length of the court. Around her back, down on one hand, sometimes with her feet.
“If I had a bad night, I looked pretty foolish,” Borgman said.
After two seasons with the Red Heads, and with the newfound confidence that experience provided, Borgman decided it was time for college. She graduated from Pensacola Christian College, and went on to teach and coach in Indiana. Borgman just completed her 30th year in the classroom.
Ten years ago, Borgman received a phone call from Moore. He said he’d heard about her success. Some of the Red Heads alumni had told him about Borgman’s career.
“He said, ‘I just want you to know how proud I am of you,’ ” Borgman said.
Moore sent Borgman an All-American Red Heads uniform, which is now framed and hanging in her living room.
After the second chance Moore gave her changed Borgman’s life, framing the uniform seemed like the perfect “thank you.”
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242