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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Choctaw Basketball Player Inducted Into Naismith Hall Of Fame
by Chris Jennings - (Choctaw Nation) Biskinik
Rosalie Ardese stands with a Flying Queens program banner at the Naismith Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. (submitted photo)

Rosalie Ardese was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame September 6, 2019, as a member of the Wayland Baptist University Flying Queens basketball team. Ardese played for Wayland between 1974 and 1975.

After graduating from Panola High School, Ardese received a scholarship to play at Wayland. The Flying Queens held the record for the longest win streak of any men's or women's collegiate basketball program between 1953 and 1958 at 131. During that time the Flying Queens won four straight Amateur Athletic Union titles. In their 35-year run, the Flying Queens won 10 overall AAU titles.

Ardese said she started her competitive sports career in the third and fourth grades playing marbles. "I played for keeps and whipped everyone," said Ardese. She started playing basketball in the fifth grade and remembers her coaches stressing the fundamentals of the game.

"My grade school coach was DeWayne Mankin and both he and my high school coach, Ronnie Robison, stressed fundamentals. They gave me the drive to be better, so I was blessed to be coached by them," said Ardese.

From grade school fundamentals to being Oklahoma's leading scorer her junior and senior year with an average of 38 and 33 points respectively per game, Ardese was sought after by several colleges, finally landing at Wayland and now, years later, the Naismith Hall of Fame.

When speaking of the Hall of Fame Ardese said, "It was an amazing, exuberating feeling. To meet all the people, you know, you're just a small-town kid…it's amazing."

Ardese tells the story of flying to Springfield, Mass. Flying in first class, she saw quite a few people going to the Hall of Fame ceremony, she didn't know who they all were, but she recognized several of them from TV.

One person struck up a conversation with her, asking about her Oklahoma University shirt and talking about the Hall of Fame. "I told him I was fixing to be inducted in the Hall of Fame and then he just shook my hand, all the guys shook my hand," said Ardese.

Rosalie Ardese goes in for a lay-up during a game. (submitted photo)

That initial handshake came from the only player to lead the National Collegiate Athletic Association, American Basketball Association and National Basketball Association in scoring for an individual season, Rick Barry. If you ever saw someone on TV shooting free throws in a game underhanded, that was probably him.

That wasn't the only brush with fame Ardese had; "The biggest deal was Bill Russell and Larry Bird. It was exciting because I kept telling everybody that's who I was going to meet when I got there and he [Larry Bird] was the first one up on the red carpet," said Ardese

College wasn't all fun and games. Ardese made the team her second year but wasn't able to play in the second semester because of her grades.

With her grades declining and after being told that she may not be college material by college administration, Ardese made the hard decision to stop playing basketball so she could focus on academics.

"I dug deep into my studies to prove him wrong. I spent a lot of time in the library; the librarian, Ms. Conway, and her mother were angels. They were instrumental in helping me through dark days. They invited me over to their house to eat and watch games… My primary goal was to finish school with majors in PE and Biology, so I never returned to Flying Queens basketball," said Ardese.

"I ended up working 24 years in law enforcement and was a three-year veteran in the Oklahoma National Guard in the 445 Military Police unit," said Ardese. She also tried to go back and serve after September 11, 2001, but wasn't able to due to medical reasons.

That's not surprising given the fighting spirit Ardese demonstrated during several key moments in her life. She has been in a car crash that dislocated her shoulder and seriously damaged her knee. She has been struck by lightning three times, describing one of the incidents as a ball of fire coming out of her eyeball. "I was blinded in my right eye for 7 days," said Ardese.

The most drastic moment, though, came to Ardese in the form of a cancer diagnosis giving her six months to live. That was 40 ago and she's still here putting up a fight.

The tendency for Ardese to look trouble in the eye and tackle it head-on shows when she goes through a list of jobs she's held. "I worked for the State of Oklahoma Penitentiary system as a correctional officer, transportation officer and case manager on death row. I worked for the Latimer County Sheriff's Office as a jailer and jail administrator. I worked for Pinkerton Government Services providing security services in the aerospace/defense, industry. I guarded Boeing airplanes. I was also a security guard at McAlester Army Ammunition Plant," said Ardese.

With a life full of so many ups and downs and so many exciting and memorable moments, the only thing Ardese was adamant about being included in this story was how proud she is to be a representative for the Choctaw Nation and small-town kids. "I was representing all the kids at not only my college but all the young kids growing up playing ball here in Southeastern Oklahoma and my Choctaw Nation," said Ardese

You may not be able to rub shoulders with basketball legends like Bird, Barry and Russell, but if you ever get to Wilburton, Okla. you might just catch a glimpse of basketball legend and real-life Chahta tvshka, Rosalie Ardese. And word is, she'll sign an autograph for you if you ask nicely.

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