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The Heart of the Game

The Heart of the Game poster
Directed by Ward Serrill
Produced by Ward Serrill
Written by Ward Serrill
Starring Bill Resler
Darnellia Russell
Joyce Walker
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release date(s) June 9, 2006
Running time 97 min.
Language English
Budget $11.3 thousand

The Heart of the Game is a sports documentary about the Roosevelt Roughriders girls basketball team. The movie is centered around their star player Darnellia Russell and the Roughriders new coach Bill Resler.



The film begins two years before the African-American Darnellia Russell attends the predominantly white and upper-class Roosevelt High School. Bill Resler, a tax law professor at the University of Washington, becomes their new girls basketball coach. Relser, a coach who uses animal and nature themes to motivate his team, believes they can win the Washington State championship but they fall short in the first game of the state tournament.

A couple of years later, Darnellia attends Roosevelt High School where she makes the junior-varsity team. Learning of her natural talent, Resler recruits her for the varsity squad. In the following years, the talented Roosevelt team falls short of winning the state championship in close games. Darnellia receives letters of interest from several major universities. However, after her junior year, Darnellia becomes pregnant by her longtime boyfriend and drops out of school.

After giving birth to a daughter, Darnellia returns to Roosevelt for her fifth year. The WIAA (Washington Interscholastic Activities Association) bans Russell from playing basketball due to a rule that states that high school students can only play on their teams for four years, unless a hardship is involved. Darnellia, believing that having an unplanned child constitutes a hardship, appeals the decision. Attorney Ken Luce represents Darnellia in court and a judge rules in Darnellia's favor. The WIAA takes the matter to court again, and for the second time the judge grants Darnellia the right to continue playing. However, the WIAA files a lawsuit against Darnellia and Roosevelt High School. In defiance of the WIAA, the Roughriders continue to play with Darnellia on the team.

Darnellia and her team return to the Washington State high school basketball championship tournament and play their rivals, the Garfield Bulldogs in the finals. Darnellia leads the team to the school's first state championship. Two days later, the WIAA dropped their case. Darnellia graduates from high school with honors and is named the Northwest Player of the Year.

Although Darnellia didn't receive any college scholarships, she attended North Seattle Community College.

After the movie

On November 10th, 2007, Roosevelt fired Resler as head coach. Roosevelt said that they wanted to go in a "different direction." [1]

On July 8, 2008, it was announced that Darnellia has committed to attend Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada for the 2008-09 season. Lakehead is a member of the OUA (Ontario Universities Athletic) Conference and the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport). (

Lakehead Thunderwolves Women’s Basketball Head Coach Jon Kreiner regrets to announce that recruit Darnellia Russell has decided to return home to Seattle and not play for the Thunderwolves this season.

Kreiner said Russell wanted to return home as she found being separated from her two daughters was much more difficult than she had anticipated.

Russell said it was not an easy decision. “I am really sorry for letting everyone down. I knew it was going to be very difficult leaving my kids but this was way more difficult then I can put into words. I want to thank everyone who worked so hard to get me to Thunder Bay; the Lakehead University Athletics Department, coaching staff, players, friends in Seattle, my Seattle coach and all the media who have been so kind to me. This was a tremendous opportunity for me and my decision to leave had nothing to do with the coaching staff or players. I miss my kids and need to be with them.”

Coach Kreiner said he was disappointed but was sympathetic to Russell’s choice. “Darnellia’s decision to go back home is an understandable one but also a disappointing one. I had hoped that she would take a little more time to give it more of a chance but we are very happy to have provided her the best opportunity and situation we could for her to achieve her degree while playing at Lakehead University. Darnellia has brought great international media attention to our program and I am honoured that she decided to play for us.”

Lakehead Athletics Director Tom Warden said he understood Darnellia’s decision. “I understand about commitment to family and we’re very sorry it didn’t work out for her here at Lakehead. We wish her the best of luck in the future.”

Mackenzie Argens, one of the freshmen Resler inserted during the state championship game, received a basketball scholarship to the University of Washington. A torn ACL sidelined her for the 2007-2008 season and was granted a medical redshirt. She started 6 games as a redshirt freshman during the 2008-2009 season and averaged 4.1 points per game.



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