The Mighty Macs enter hoops Hall en masse

CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTO Former Immaculata players (from left) Denise Conway Crawford, Sue Forsyth O'Grady and Betty Ann Hoffman, beside championship trophies in Alumnae Hall.
CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTO Former Immaculata players (from left) Denise Conway Crawford, Sue Forsyth O'Grady and Betty Ann Hoffman, beside championship trophies in Alumnae Hall.
Posted: August 08, 2014

TIM CHAMBERS was 10 years old when a women's college basketball team came to use his grade-school gym because it did not have a gym of its own. He only had to watch for a few minutes to realize "these girls are really, really good."

Fast forward nearly 4 decades and writer/director Tim Chambers told the story of Immaculata College basketball in "The Mighty Macs." Tonight the story comes full circle when those Immaculata teams from 40 years ago are enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

"I think this validates what most of us knew from Philadelphia," said Chambers, who grew up in Delaware County and graduated from Penn after a decorated football career. "This was really the birthplace of womens' basketball and really women's sports."

The Immaculata coach, Cathy Rush, preceded her teams into the Hall by a few years. Now, they will all be together in the Hall - forever. The three straight AIAW national championship teams (1972-74) were 60-2, but it really wasn't about the UCLA-like record.

It was that it was the first women's college team to play on national television and Madison Square Garden. It was that, at a time when women's sports were not quite a rumor, Immaculata became a brand, a hint of the possibilities, a peek into the future.

"Seeing Cathy Rush for the first time, the sense of style that she had and the personality, she really kind of lit up a room," Chambers said. "I kind of remember her personality from when I was younger and the impact she had on people around her."

The names of the players are familiar now - Theresa Grentz, Marianne Crawford, Mary Scharff. But it was never about the individuals. It was about all of them playing a game they loved and setting the stage for legendary college programs like Connecticut and Tennessee and American international dominance of the women's game.

What drew Chambers to the story all those years later?

"It was the historical significance and the change of women's athletics," Chambers said.

The future, of course, rushed forward and Immaculata, without a budget or scholarships, was left in the wake that would eventually morph into charter flights for the major programs, a Final Four in sold-out arenas and a national tournament televised on ESPN.

The Immaculata teams went from skirts to shorts and then were left behind. But tonight's ceremony celebrates the history, a time when a little school outside Philadelphia could get the best talent, have the great fortune to be mentored by a legendary coach and be backed by the nuns that ran their school.

Nothing came easy but the basketball. Title IX paved the way for Grentz to become the first full-time college women's basketball coach (Rutgers, 1976). While the Dream Team was dazzling the world, Grentz, a one-time player at little Immaculata, was coaching the women's Olympic team.

Immaculata was never going to be a decades-long dynasty because, with Title IX, came opportunities at larger schools with bigger budgets to take over women's college sports. It was never about that anyway. It was about a time and a place. That time will be celebrated in a very special place tonight.

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