Back in March of 1990, the Colo-NESCO boys' basketball team was in the midst of celebrating its 62-50 victory over Boyden-Hull in the Class A state championship game when it was time to announce all-tournament team.
One by one, they announced each all-tournament selection. When it came time to recognize the all-tournament captain, 6-5 Colo-NESCO center Brian Wildeboer's name was called.
Wildeboer had already been honored as the captain of the Class A all-tournament team the year before when the Royals were state runner-up. But this time the honor was really special.
“What I remember was the emotion on his face when they said his name,” Toby McCarter, a friend and former rival at Nevada, said. “I think he was thinking about his team and helping them win a championship — I read it on his face. We were excited he was even there.”
In the summer prior to the start of his senior season, Wildeboer began to experience pain in his toe. After toughing it out for a while, he decided in August it was time to have it checked out.
When the results came back he was floored.
“My parents took the phone call,” Wildeboer said. “I could tell the concern in their eyes.”
Wildeboer had been diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma — a form of bone cancer.
“I went through the entire summer and it never bothered me until the very end,” Wildeboer said. “I went back in and had it x-rayed and they noticed there was some sort of growth on the bone and after a biopsy and some test realized it was Ewing's Sarcoma. As a naive 17-year-old kid, my first thought was am I going to be able to play basketball or go to school? Not really thinking 'oh, my gosh, I could be in a fight for my life.”'
Winning a state championship had been a dream of Wildeboer and his teammates since they were kids. Wildeboer grew up watching Dwight Eley and John and Ed Vaske guide NESCO to great heights in the 1980s, including state appearances in 1984 and 1986.
NESCO consolidated with Colo to form Colo-NESCO in 1987-1988, Wildeboer's sophomore year. In his junior year, Colo-NESCO went 24-3 and made it all the way to the state finals before falling painfully short with a 61-57 loss to Keota in the state title game.
Led by Wildeboer, his best friend Brad Miller and Matt Rasmusson, the Royals seemed destined to bring home that championship in 1989-90. But before the school year even began, their world had been turned completely upside down.
“It almost took me to my knees,” former Colo-NESCO head boys' basketball coach Doyle Miller said. “It hit so hard.”
Everyone's focus turned to Wildeboer's well-being. However, it wasn't his nature to just sit back and hope for the best.
“I decided to attack it like I did anything else — I'm going to go head on and try to live every day the same way I did,” Wildeboer said. “With the help of my family and friends and a lot of the people in the community, I was able to lead as normal of a life as I could.”
Wildeboer underwent chemotherapy and was forced to miss several games early. But he gradually got stronger and stronger.
“We had a strong group of guys, who said we were going to make the best of it,” Brad Miller said. “He was weak early on, but the doctors and his family planned so he could build his strength for later in the season.”
By the time the postseason rolled around, Wildeboer was a lot closer to being at full strength. During state he not only produced statistically but provided the calming effect his team needed to perform at its peak level.
And did the Royals ever perform at a high level. They won all three games at state by double digits — whipping Nishna Valley, 71-54, and Elk Horn-Kimballton, 77-61, before taking out Boyden-Hull to claim the school's first and only state championship.
“Winning a state title is amazing in itself — but doing it and going through everything that I had to go through to get there and doing it with the support of my teammates, it meant even that much more when we finally won that title,” Wildeboer said. “So many emotions went through me at that time - it's hard to explain.”
At state, Wildeboer put up 19 points and 12 rebounds against Nishna Valley, 14 points against Elk Horn-Kimballton and 18 points and eight boards versus Boyden-Hull. But it wasn't about the numbers.
“I did my scoring and I did some rebounding, but I was out there giving it all I could for my teammates,” Wildeboer said. “They turned around and reciprocated that, knowing I wasn't playing at 100 percent, but giving it what I can and they gave everything they could to do the same thing.”
Fast forward to this past October and that amazing performance earned Wildeboer a much happier phone call than the one he received nearly 29 years ago. He has been selected to be inducted into the Iowa High School Athletic Association Basketball Hall of Fame.
“Well-deserving,” Brad Miller said. “Brian is such a nice guy — always has been. It's very exciting.”
At the time his high school career ended, Wildeboer was Colo-NESCO's all-time leader in rebounds (473) and blocks (101).
He averaged 19.1 points and 9.5 rebounds as a junior. As a senior, Wildeboer was named second-team all-state in Class A, averaging 15.2 points and 5.6 rebounds despite his health issue.
“He was 6-5, but played a lot bigger,” Doyle Miller said. “He had a really good shooting touch and was always at the right place at the right time.”
His high school teams went 80-16 over his career.
“It still irritates me that I only beat him once and it was in seventh grade,” McCarter said. “I wanted to beat Colo-NESCO one time in high school because I had so much respect for who they were and what they were doing.”
After graduating from Colo-NESCO, Wildeboer attended Simpson College in Indianola and spent three years as part of the men's basketball team. But his cancer treatment forced him to end his playing career prematurely.
“There were only two more years left of competitive basketball and I had hopefully 50, 60 years left of my life at that point,” Wildeboer said. “It made it a pretty simple decision at that point, and to this day feel was the right decision.”
Today Wildeboer is cancer-free.
“It's always something that's on the back of your mind,” Wildeboer said. “But luckily, knock on wood, I've been healthy ever since then and no issues going forward.”
He fondly remembers all the support he received as he was recovering.
“It was amazing to see how everybody reacted to the situation I was in,” Wildeboer said. “Obviously my parents (Steve and El Jean Wildeboer) and my sister (Kris) were first and foremost the biggest supporters of me.”
It helped him fight through dire circumstances to achieve big things and live a full life.
“One of those life lessons you learn that carries on the rest of your life,” Wildeboer said. “You fight through the battles you have. Not everyone goes through battles like that, but everyone goes through battles. Face them head-on.”
Wildeboer currently is a financial representative for Principal Financial Group and resides in Ames with his wife Janet and youngest son Sam, who attends Gilbert. He also has an older son, Jonathan, who is married to Justine and has one child, Lucy.
The IHSAA Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2019 inductees will be recognized during the 3A boys' state championship game, which takes place this Friday at 6:35 p.m.
Joining Wildeboer as part of the 2019 class are: Nick Collinson of Iowa Falls, Kirk Hinrich of Sioux City West, Jason Bohannon of Linn-Mar, Kyle McCann of Creston, Dennis Pauling of Paullina and Grant Stout of North Mahaska. Coaches Dennis Geraghty of Western Dubuque and Ken Laffoon of Danville will also be honored.