Varsity Basketball

Maize High honors oldest living graduate and pioneer of women’s basketball

Maize honors 99-year-old Ruth Ott, the oldest living graduate

Maize honored 99-year-old Ruth Ott, the oldest living graduate, before the Eagle's girls varsity basketball game against Eisenhower on Friday.
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Maize honored 99-year-old Ruth Ott, the oldest living graduate, before the Eagle's girls varsity basketball game against Eisenhower on Friday.

As recently as the early 1980s, Ruth Ott had a left-handed hook shot that was a silver bullet against anyone in H-O-R-S-E.

Ott, 99, is now the oldest living graduate of Maize High School. One of the first Eagles girls basketball players, Ott was honored before Maize kicked off its 2018-19 basketball season on Friday.

Ott suffers from dementia, but she remembers her time at Maize. She tells stories of her performance at a national free-throw shooting competition when she won it going 99 of 100 from the stripe. And she said all that is almost “scary.”

“Old,” Ott said. “It makes me feel old.”

Ott turned 99 on Nov. 24, so her ceremony split to recognize her life and celebrate her birthday. But even that wasn’t all.

During World War II, just a few years after her graduation from Maize, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) approached Ott and her professional team, the Boeing Bombshells, and asked whether they would play in front of a crowd while the men were off at war.

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Ruth Ott, fourth from left, poses for a team photo with the Boeing Bombshells. Courtesy of Ruth Feather

The team had one stipulation: They must play on a full court and perform under all regulations the men had. The AAU accepted.

Ott and the Bombshells became one of the first womens teams to play the game that the Eagles’ girls varsity team played Friday night in their 64-42 win over Eisenhower. The Bombshells earned recognition from legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summit.

Maize senior wing Alexis Cauthon, who signed with Evangel College in November, said it was an amazing experience to meet Ott.

“It was an honor to meet her,” Cauthon said. “It was so crazy to hear her story. She’s the foundation of what we have here, and I feel like everything we’ve done has played off of her and the history she made.”

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Ott and her teammates became so well-known they became endorsers of war stamps during World War II. Courtesy of Ruth Feather

Ott’s dauther, Ruth Feather, and Maize booster Robin Thornburg were instrumental in coordinating the event. They have known each other for years as Thornburg is a regular at the restaurant Feather hosts.

When Thornburg heard wind of Ott’s story, she jumped on it, and together they made it happen.

“I just think anybody that lives to 99 years old deserves some kind of recognition,” Thornburg said.

For Feather, she knows her mom is in her later stages of life, so every day is a blessing, she said. Feather said Ott’s key to a longer life is to stay active. She said Ott bowled up to five times a week until she was in her mid-90s.

Feather said to have her mom under the lights again was a special feeling.

“We’re thrilled to death,” she said. “We’re so proud of her, and we’re so happy for her. This is her day, her night, and we’ll do anything in the world to help her out because she’s been a good mom.”

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Wichita Eagle preps reporter Hayden Barber brings the area updates on all high school sports while adding those hard-to-find human-interest stories on Wichita’s student-athletes.