Former Auburn University basketball star Ruthie Bolton is one of the pioneers of women’s professional basketball. Bolton played guard on three conference championship teams at Auburn, played on several European professional teams, and became one of the first stars in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) in the United States. She played eight years with the Sacramento Monarchs and was a member of two US Olympic gold medal teams.
Alice Ruth Bolton and her twin brother, Ray, were born in McLain, Mississippi, on 25 May 1967; their parents, Rev. Linwood Bolton and Leola Bolton, had eighteen other children. Raised in rural Mississippi, Ruthie and her siblings shared chores, sports, and their Baptist faith. At McLain High School, Ruthie played basketball in the shadow of her older sister, Mae Ola, who was recruited to Auburn in 1984.
In 1986 Ruthie followed her sister to Auburn, where they and teammates Vickie Orr and Carolyn Jones enjoyed great success. Auburn’s record during Bolton’s four years at the school was 119–13: the team won three Southeastern Conference (SEC) championships and played in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament every year, making two trips to the Final Four. Bolton achieved numerous honors, including second team all-SEC in 1989, all–Final Four in 1988, and all-Academic SEC in 1988 and 1989. She graduated in 1989 with a degree in exercise physiology and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the US Army Reserve, serving until 2000. At Auburn, Bolton shares the record for games played and is among the Top 10 on the career lists for assists and steals. Bolton scored a total of 1,176 points, putting her in twenty-fourth place on the Auburn career scoring list. In February 2001 Auburn retired Bolton’s jersey along with those of Orr and Jones.
Bolton married Mark Holifield in 1991; they had no children prior their 2002 divorce. In 2014, Bolton publicly declared that she had been the victim of domestic violence during that marriage.
Bolton began her professional basketball career in Europe because the United States had no women’s league at that time. She played in Sweden in 1991, Hungary in 1992 (where she was the first American woman to play professionally), Italy from 1993 until 1995, and Turkey in 1996. In 1995–96 Bolton played on the US women’s national team that achieved a perfect 60–0 record. She was also a key player on the US team that won the world championship in 1998. Perhaps her greatest recognition, however, came from her role as a member of the 1996 and 2000 US Olympic teams, both of which won gold medals. In 1996 she set an Olympic record for the most three-pointers in a game.
Capitalizing on the success of the women’s Olympic team, the American Basketball League (ABL) and the WNBA introduced professional women’s basketball to the United States in 1996 and 1997, respectively. (The ABL folded in 1998.) Bolton joined the Sacramento Monarchs, one of the WNBA’s eight teams. She was Sacramento’s first marquee player, a two-time all-star (1997, 2001) and first team all-WNBA (1997, 1999). After a career-threatening knee injury in 1998, repaired by Olympic speed skater turned orthopedic surgeon Eric Heiden, Bolton returned to the Monarchs in 1999, starting in all but one game. After the 2000 season, Bolton’s playing time and productivity declined as she became a role player off the bench. She retired after an eight-year WNBA career during which she averaged ten points per game. She remained in her adopted hometown of Sacramento, where she conducted basketball clinics, speaking engagements, and community work as the team’s fan and team relations manager. The Monarchs retired her No. 6 jersey in 2005.
From 2004 to 2007 Bolton served as head women’s basketball coach at William Jessup University in Rocklin, California. After stepping down as head coach she assumed the post of associate head coach. In 2013 Bolton took the job of head coach of the varsity girls’ basketball team at Vacaville Christian High School in Vacaville, California. She has also released a gospel music CD, developed a line of clothing under the label RUWEAR, and started the nonprofit Ruthie Bolton Foundation to help motivate teens and student athletes in the Sacramento area. In June 2011 Bolton was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has remarried and has two children.
- 2014–15 Auburn Women’s Basketball Record Book
- Boyd Childress, Encyclopedia of Alabama, www.encyclopediaofalabama.org
- Cynthia Hubert, Sacramento Bee (28 July 2004)
- William Jessup University official athletic website, www.jessupathletics.com
- Alison Roberts, Sacramento Bee (7 January 2006)
- Michelle Smith, espnW.com (10 October 2014). Adapted with permission from the online Encyclopedia of Alabama