The Heart Of The Game

More than a lighter, distaff version of HOOP DREAMS, Ward Serrill's documentary about a never-say-die girls' high-school basketball team has been seven years in the making. Serrill spent those years following the fluctuating fortunes of Roosevelt High's Rough Riders under the tutelage of remarkably dedicated coach Bill Resler. When University of Washington...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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More than a lighter, distaff version of HOOP DREAMS, Ward Serrill's documentary about a never-say-die girls' high-school basketball team has been seven years in the making. Serrill spent those years following the fluctuating fortunes of Roosevelt High's Rough Riders under the tutelage of remarkably dedicated coach Bill Resler. When University of Washington tax professor Resler, a dead-ringer for Burl Ives, heard that Seattle's Roosevelt High was looking for a new head coach for its girls' basketball team, he jumped at the chance. Like many women's high-school sports teams, the Rough Riders had been virtually ignored in favor of their male counterparts. But Resler saw potential in the young women who showed up for practice: All they needed was someone with a few fresh ideas, a "Basketball Is Life" philosophy (as Resler's T-shirt proclaims), and a punishing training regime that would help unleash their inner beasts. Within months of Resler's arrival, the Rough Riders found themselves undefeated and ranked among the state's top 10 teams. They ended the season at the Tacoma Dome, competing for the WIAA State Championship. The Rough Riders lost that crucial final game by a hair, but suddenly, turnout at the Roosevelt High girls' games was even bigger than for the boys', and some of the women were emerging as stars. The team's good fortune didn't hold — many star players were already upperclasswomen when Resler came on board, and soon graduated — but Resler's faith and enthusiasm never flagged. Using simple and direct motivational mantras like "Kill!" and "Sink your teeth into their necks!", Resler tried to instill the instincts of a merciless predator; the imaginative themes he dreamed up for each season cast the players in the roles of lions and wolves. The Rough Riders' path, however, took a few unforeseen and dramatic twists with the arrival of diamond-in-the-rough Darnellia Russell, a transfer student from a far-tougher inner-city school who brought compelling issues of sex and race to the story of the Roosevelt Rough Riders. Serrill wisely divides his film into chapters according to year, which helps structure the story's natural repetitiveness. Seven years means seven seasons and that's a lot of basketball; if you're not a fan of the game you'll probably find the middle section a monotonous blur. But to say more would only spoil the suspense of the film's final moments: Suffice it to say that an entire team of Hollywood scriptwriters couldn't have come up with a better ending.

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  • Released: 2006
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: More than a lighter, distaff version of HOOP DREAMS, Ward Serrill's documentary about a never-say-die girls' high-school basketball team has been seven years in the making. Serrill spent those years following the fluctuating fortunes of Roosevelt High's Ro… (more)

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