The year was 1972. It was the year before I was born. The year Title IX was passed. And the year that Immaculata College won the national women’s basketball championship. It was a new thing at the time — to have national championships in collegiate athletics for women. At the time, the NCAA wanted no part of women’s sports. Zero. And by the way, it was the first year that playing five-on-five, full-court basketball became the norm for women.
I know this because (a) I’m a huge women’s basketball fan and (b) I’m kind of a school nerd and that translated far beyond the classroom into other things that just plain caught my interest. So there was no doubt that I would find my way into a movie theater to catch The Mighty Macs on its debut weekend. It didn’t take much to get my mom to go along (For those who don’t know, my mother watches more college basketball than possibly anyone on the planet. Coaches and ESPN analysts included. For real.) and we spent our late Sunday afternoon transported back to 1972 and the era of the VW bus, wide-legged jump suits and horrible amounts of plaid.
The movie centers on Hall of Fame coach Cathy Rush in her first year as the head basketball coach of Immaculata College, a small Catholic college for women outside of Philadelphia. Rush, who at the time was married to pro basketball ref Ed Rush, took over a losing program without a budget, a gym or much support. But Rush turned the school into the dominate women’s basketball program in the country, winning the national title that first year.
The movie deals lightly with the lives of the young women and the women of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the order of nuns who run the college. (For more depth on their stories, I highly recommend the book O God of Players, by Julie Byrne. It reads much like an academic dissertation in parts, but for those interested in women’s basketball history it is a fascinating account.) Still, the movie does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of the story of Cathy Rush and the improbably rise of the Immaculata team. While parts of the movie were surely dramatized and compressed for storytelling purposes, the final product does a solid job of entertaining and inspiring without over dramatizing. Oh sure, there’s a bit of good old-fashioned Hoosiers in the movie, the sentiment of winning for all the small schools, but it’s not overdone. It is, after all, a rather self-evident fact throughout the movie without the need to dwell on it.
While there is much to like about this movie, I absolutely loved the scene where Cathy talked with one her players about dreams: “Have the courage to follow your dreams. That’s your gift to the world.” Whoa. Sit with that for a moment. Following your dream is your gift to the world. Not selfish. Not self-serving. Not crazy or unattainable. But your gift to the world. The truest calling is that which allows us to be our most authentic version of ourselves, to be who we really are. Trust your instincts, your heart and your teammates. It will always lead you somewhere special and occasionally some place magical.