Heart of the Game
Santa’s got game!

Theatrical Release Date: 07/07/2006
Director: Ward Serrill
Narrator: Ludacris

I didn’t support my high school’s athletic teams much. I played one year of volleyball (to get a necessary P.E. credit) and attended one football game (senior year homecoming … still no idea why I was there).

However, had our women’s basketball team coach been like Bill Resler, I might have seen a few of their games.

Resler teaches tax law in Seattle, and a few year ago, became the head coach of the Roosevelt High School women’s basketball team.

He had an immediate impact on the school, propelling them to the playoffs by inspiring them and working them as hard as possible to toughen and condition the team.

Shortly after becoming head coach, the team would garner media attention for something off the court – their star player becoming pregnant.

Darnellia Russell had a natural instinct for the game and a desire to play in the WNBA one day. However, she had to sit out her junior year due to her pregnancy and it looked like her dream of playing professional basketball may have been squashed.

The high school state athletic association (WIAA) felt she did not deserve another year of eligibility and it took a ruling by a judge to grant her the opportunity to play. The team rallied around her and even put their season at risk by allowing her back, as the WIAA was appealing the ruling and if they won, the Roosevelt team’s season would be forfeited.

I know that’s a lot of plot to throw out there on a review but that’s really what this documentary is made up of.

Where it succeeds is giving the audience a chance to get to know the team and its coach. The girls are engaging and talented and you can’t help but cheer them on. The coach has a love for the game and his offbeat inspirational themes are nothing short of fantastic.

Resler wants his team to be aggressive and not to fear the opponent. How does he accomplish this? By telling his team that they are wolves, waiting to devour their prey.

His most constant words of encouragement from the sideline are “Look in their eyes!”, alluding to the opponent’s fear.

The basketball itself is captured quite well by director Ward Serrill and his team, giving great synopses of each game and allowing the audience to understand the situations as they arise.

However, my big complaint about “The Heart of the Game” is that the central storyline to the documentary, that of Russell’s pregnancy and its implications for female athletes as a whole, takes far too long to surface.

The first third of the film is devoted to the development of the team prior to Russell’s arrival. While it is interesting, I would have liked more time spent on the ramifications of her situation than on how a coach was able to get his players to work hard.

Still, I became a Roosevelt supporter just like so many other people who have seen this film and I hope that this film will engender more support for teams around the nation and for women’s athletics as a whole.

Being able to bear children presents an entirely new wrinkle to eligibility and a player’s career longevity. In the 35 years since Title IX presented women with a more equal playing field, the all-boys club has had to make some adjustments.

“The Heart of the Game” shows that the struggle for equality isn’t over yet but that there’s been significant progress and we can all hope that continues. I’m giving the documentary a 3 out of 5. I would have liked a more focused film but I enjoyed it nonetheless.