Bolton-Holifield, Ruthie 1967–
Ruthie Bolton-Holifield 1967–
Professional basketball player
Playing the position of guard for the Sacramento Monarchs of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), Ruthie Bolton-Holifield is representative of a fairly new phenomenon in women’s basketball—the veteran player. Bolton-Holifield came to professional basketball after already having enjoyed a varied career that culminated in a place on the gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team in 1996. When she reached the pros, Bolton-Holifield emerged as a team leader—a figure at least as important to the fortunes of an athletic team as are its individual stars.
Ruthie Bolton-Holifield was born Alice Bolton on May 25, 1967, in Lucedale, Mississippi; she rarely uses her given first name. The daughter of a minister, she grew up in the country outside nearby McLain, in the state’s red-clay southeastern corner. The family farmed six acres of land, raising livestock and cultivating okra and turnip greens. The 16th of 20 children (one, her brother Ray, is her twin), Bolton-Holifield has 81 nieces and nephews. “Even just sitting around the house,” she told Newsweek, “we’d end up five on a couch designed for four. We had to get along.”
Bolton-Holifield has said that her love of basketball had its roots in her experiences growing up in such a large family. The Bolton children often amused themselves with the game, nailing a tire or a produce basket to a tree. “We had a lot of fun and a lot of opportunities to play,” she told the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service.“It was the one sport that 10 people could play at one time.” Several of Bolton-Holifield’s siblings also play basketball, and her older sister Mae Ola played for Auburn University in Alabama. That induced Bolton-Holifield to enroll at Auburn as well after graduating from high school in 1986 and leading her team to a local championship.
Unimpressed with her talents and her modest five-foot-eight-inch stature, the Auburn coaching staff suggested that she transfer to a local junior college instead. But Bolton-Holifield, showing the strength in adversity that she would draw on at several later points in her career, persisted and won a place on the team. “Every time I posed a negative to Ruthie, she turned it into a positive,” Auburn head coach Joe Ciampi told the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. Bolton-Holifield played for Auburn on three Southeastern Conference
At a Glance…
Born Alice Bolton May 25, 1967, in Lucedale, Mississippi; one of 20 children; daughter of Rev. Linwood Bolton, a minister, and Leola Bolton; married Mark Holifield, 1991. Education; Auburn University, Auburn, bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology, 1989. Military Service: U.S. Army Reserves, first lieutenant.
Career: Professional basketball player. Played for several years for European teams including: Visby, Sweden, 1989-90; Tungstrum, Hungary, 1991-92; Erreti Faenza, Italy, 1992-95; Calatsaray, Turkey, 1996-97; finalist for U.S. Olympic basketball team, 1992; member, U.S. Olympic basketball team, 1996 and 2000; signed to Sacramento Mona re h s, Women’s National Basketball Association, 1997; named to All-WNBA first team, 1997.
Awards: Gold medals, U.S. Olympic basketball team, 1996 and 2000.
Addresses: Team offices —c/o Sacramento Monarchs, One Sports Parkway, Sacramento, CA 95834.
championship teams; one of those teams reached the semifinals of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) year-end championship tournament. Auburn’s record during Bolton-Holifield’s years there was 119-13. She graduated from Auburn in 1989 with a degree in exercise physiology.
Bolton-Holifield hoped to make a living playing basketball, but at this point women’s professional basketball in the U.S. was little more than an intermittent novelty. So she headed for Europe, which in many areas has a longer tradition of women’s athletics than does the U.S. She played for teams in Sweden (1989-90), Hungary (1991-92), Italy (1992-95), and Turkey (1996), returning to the U.S. in the off-season and marrying Mark Holifield in 1991. Unlike other U.S. players who have worked in Europe, Bolton-Holifield made an attempt to enter into the cultural scenes of her temporary homes. During her years in Italy she learned to speak Italian and even sang with an Italian pop group called Antidum Tarantula.
Another challenge for Bolton-Holifield came in 1992, when she had set her sights on making the U.S. Olympic women’s team. Despite a knee injury suffered in Hungary, she battled back, and, after several rounds of the Olympic trials, was one of the last 15 players remaining before the last cut to a 12-player squad. However, she did not make the final cut. Undaunted, Bolton-Holifield resolved to continue working on her game in Europe and to try again in four years. “I used that [setback] as a positive,” Bolton-Holifield told the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. “I have had to prove myself to people my entire career, I preach Positive Mental Attitude, which I call PMA.”
When the 1996 Olympic trials arrived, Bolton-Holifield was certain she would make the team. And she did. Bolton-Holifield played on the USA Basketball Women’s National Team that toured the world in the run-up to the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta; a hint of what was to come could be found in that team’s record of 52 wins and no losses. In the Olympic finals against arch-rival Russia, the United States trailed late in the game. Bolton-Holifield scored back-to-back three-point baskets in the final minutes to lead the U.S. to the gold medal. She started every game in the Olympics and averaged 12.8 points per game.
The following year, Bolton-Holifield joined the Sacramento Monarchs of the fledgling WNBA. In June of 1997 she was named the WNBA’s first Player of the Week, and went on to amass an impressive set of statistics for the season, leading the team in scoring with an average of 19.4 points per game, second in the league. She was named to the All-League first team, and excelled as both an offensive and defensive player. Going into the 1998 season, Bolton-Holifield was one of the new league’s headline makers.
But the year 1998 brought her new trials. On June 25, she suffered the knee injury that is the bane of basketball players: a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament. After surgery carried out by Dr. Eric Heiden, a former U.S. Olympic speed skater, she spent the rest of the 1998 season off the court in rehabilitation. Then, in the midst of that difficult process, Bolton-Holifield’s father died.
“It was a tough period in my life,” she told the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. “I felt sorry for myself and almost gave up. After my father died, I didn’t view rehabilitation for my knee as important. I lost focus.” Then, at the funeral, Bolton-Holifield thought about what her father would have wanted for her. “He wouldn’t want us to be this way,” she told the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. “He’d want us to be chipper. He’d say, ‘You must prevail, get through this.’ When my mother passed, my father was strong, so I knew how I had to be. I translated that into my knee rehab.”
Bolton-Holifield roared back onto the basketball court in 1999 and 2000, averaging over 13 points per game each year and building a spirit of teamwork among her younger comrades that propelled the Monarchs to the WNBA playoffs in 2000. She added another Olympic gold medal to her trophy collection that year, playing primarily in defensive roles as the U.S. advanced through the rounds and defeated Australia in the finals.
In addition to her athletic ability, Bolton-Holifield is also noted for her work in the Sacramento community. In addition to coaching clinics and visiting schools and hospitals, she has hosted a Christmas event for homeless youth, “Mighty Ruthie’s Song and Soul Food Holiday Celebration,” at which she led the assembled celebrants in Christmas carols.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, August 11, 2000, p. K3373; September 24, 2000, p. K3225; September 30, 2000, p. K3976.
Newsweek, September 1, 1997, p. 56.
Sport, September 1998, p. 30.
Additional information was obtained online at http://www.makeithappen.com/wis/bb/ruthie.htm
—James M. Manheim
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