Aiming higher

Hoping to motivate and inspire, basketball star visits Taholah school

Shirley Mae Stafford, as she had done many times Wednesday evening, calmly lofted the basketball off the backboard and in.

It was the second half of a middle school basketball game between the Taholah Chitwhins and the Oakville Acorns, and at that point in the game, the Chitwhins had taken an extended lead, and the action was seemingly insignificant.

But the second half of the game was, in fact, different, not because of who was on the court, but because of who was in the crowd.

Moments earlier, Stafford, along with the rest of the Chitwhins and Acorns teams, had shaken hands with Ruthie Bolton — women’s basketball hall-of-famer and two-time Olympic gold medalist.

Bolton arrived in Taholah Wednesday evening as part of her community service outreach program focused on education and personal development, the beginning of what she says will be an extended relationship with the Taholah school.

The visit is part of the Taholah School District’s effort to establish Taholah Unity Pride and Power (TUPP).

“We have a lot of work to do, us as athletes, leaders, influencers, we have a responsibility to appeal to the next generation. I feel like it’s part of my calling,” Bolton said.

Bolton was one of the pioneering players in women’s professional basketball, earning All-WNBA honors in the league’s inaugural season. She won gold medals in 1996 and 2000 as a member of team USA.

For Bolton, who grew up in Lucedale, Mississippi, basketball has been the bridge between cultures and communities, and to no surprise, it was at a basketball tournament when she found out about Taholah, a small town on the coast of Washington.

Bolton met Jay Claymore, brother of Taholah Superintendent Jon Claymore, at the Lakota Nation Invitational tournament in Rapid City, South Dakota. Claymore convinced Bolton to come to Taholah and meet the community.

Bolton said she has undertaken community service work for years, specifically working with students, mostly in Northern California. So she agreed.

But, even though she discovered Taholah through basketball, Bolton said sports aren’t her emphasis.

“I always say to the kids, ‘When I’m done with the next 15 minutes, if all you can think about is how I played basketball, then I have failed you,’” Bolton said.

And despite her laundry list of accolades and superstar status, Bolton said she prefers not to be held up on a pedestal, and just wants to be acknowledged as the students’ equal.

On Thursday, Bolton spoke with Taholah high school and middle school students about perseverance and determination, and then spoke to elementary students about the importance of exercise.

Bolton has published two personal development curriculums — called “aim higher” and “our golden moments” — for students, which she says are meant to inspire students to have confidence to be themselves.

“We’re going to talk about mindset, commitment, discipline and how to overcome fear,” Bolton said.

On Thursday evening, Bolton met with community members in the school cafeteria.

“I don’t want to just jump in, I want to get to know people,” Bolton said.

Bolton said she plans to visit Taholah at least once per month, each time doing the same kinds of activities and building real relationships with the students.

As for basketball fundamentals, Bolton said she didn’t have major plans to work with players on their game. Then again, considering the girls team’s undefeated record, they might not need it.

“They looked good,” Bolton said.

After their dominant win Wednesday, Chitwhin players said they were glad Bolton could be there on their eighth-grade recognition night.

“She brought a lot of good positivity,” said Chitwhins player Luvaila Smith.

And Stafford, along with Smith, said she wasn’t sure about her future in basketball. She did say, however, that she admired Bolton’s gold medals.

“I would like to get one, too,” Stafford said.

Luvaila Smith, right, a player on the Taholah Chitwins middle school basketball team, embraces Ruthie Bolton during halftime of the contest the Chitwins would go on to win. (Clayton Franke / The Daily World)
Jacob Krise, player for the Taholah Chitwins middle school boys basketball team, embraces Ruthie Bolton before the team's game Wednesday evening. (Clayton Franke / The Daily World)