Merriam-Webster defines pioneer
as “a person or group that originates or helps open up a new
line of thought or activity or a new method or technical
Cynthia Borgen would fit this definition
in terms of women’s tennis in South Dakota.
The 1957 Washington High School graduate was
among the first female tennis players in the state as she played
the game years before Title IX was passed, allowing girls to
participate in athletics.
Hildegarde Cynthia Borgen was born January 3,
1940 in Waseca, Minnesota. She moved with her family to Sioux
Falls when she was two years old.
The Borgen family lived on 4th Avenue near
McKennan Park, which would become a favorite place for young
“I lived across the street from McKennan Park,”
Cynthia said. “That’s why I started playing tennis. If I
could get away fast after we ate a meal, I didn’t have to do the
dishes. That’s how the whole thing started.”
She spoke fondly of the late Don Grebin, a
fellow South Dakota Tennis Hall of Famer, who was among her
early tennis instructors.
“He made it fun for these little kids that were
never going to be tennis players,”
Cynthia said. “He made it fun for them so they kept
coming back to the courts and playing.”
She attended Longfellow Grade School for
kindergarten through eighth grades before moving onto Washington
High School in the fall of 1953.
As a teenager, Cynthia became a member of the
Sioux Falls Tennis Club, later serving as volunteer secretary.
The group would play in tournaments in town and around the
region in places like Fargo and Grand Forks, North Dakota during
When she was 13, she defeated Patty Stringham
6-3, 6-0 to win the city championship.
A year later in 1954, Cynthia won four titles at
the city tournament when she captured the girls’
singles, junior women’s singles, girls’
doubles and junior women’s doubles. That same year,
Cynthia defeated Carol Kleespies 3-6, 7-5 and 6-1 to earn the
South Dakota Open junior women’s singles crown.
While she did not play sports for the Warriors,
she supported the football and basketball teams as a
cheerleader. Cynthia recalled the tryout process.
“They had you come out alone,”
she said. “One person on the stage and do a cheer, and
off you go, and out comes another person. Then they vote.”
1957 was a big year for Cynthia. She graduated
from Washington in the spring as the valedictorian of her class
of 489. That summer, she won her second straight women’s
singles City Championship as she defeated Barb Borst 6-1, 7-5.
Borgen teamed with Borst as they claimed the crowns in
championship women’s doubles and junior women’s doubles. Cynthia
added her fourth title as she teamed with fellow Warrior John
Simko to defeat Joan Griffin and Grebin to win the mixed doubles
That fall, she moved to Evanston, Illinois to
attend Northwestern University.
Cynthia won the South Dakota Closed Women’s
singles title in 1957 and 1958.
She shared thoughts of two players from
Brookings whom she admired while playing the game.
“He (Buck Shane) was so nice,”
she said. “I really looked up to Buck Shane and Lefty
Cynthia graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree
in History from Northwestern in 1961 and also earned a teaching
certificate in secondary education. One summer, she took a
criminal psychology class at Harvard University in Cambridge,
Cynthia taught 4th grade in Chicago, Illinois
before moving home to Sioux Falls. She substitute taught and
worked in retail at Akers’
Gift Store and at Catherine’s Store for Women. Cynthia
played in tennis tournaments in the 1960’s and 1970’s. She
taught the game for the YWCA, Augustana College and the Parks
Peggy Merrow of Sioux Falls has been Cynthia’s
best friend and confidant for over 50 years. The two grew
up together and remain extremely close today.
Photo: Cynthia with longtime friend Peggy
“We had so much fun,”
Merrow said. “We lived half-a-block apart. It was a
Cynthia is the daughter of Alfred Borgen Sr. and
Lorinda Borgen. She has an older sister Mary, who is 87, and an
older brother Alfred (Al) Jr., who is 81. Her younger sister
Julie passed away in 2010. One of Cynthia’s ardent supporters
was her namesake and Aunt Hildy.
Today, at age 76, Cynthia still lives in Sioux
Falls and remains a fan of the game that she played long ago.
“I like (Roger) Federer,”
she said with a smile. “He’s a gentleman, he’s kind and
he’s nice. Chris Evert was truly a champion and a special lady.”
On behalf of the South Dakota Tennis Hall of
Fame selection committee, we proudly welcome Cynthia Borgen into
our ranks as a member of the Class of 2016. Congratulations to