The Mighty Macs (PCM PHhotos from the World Premiere HERE) is the story of the 1972 women’s basketball team from Immaculata College, called by many the birthplace of modern women’s basketball. The success of the team brought widespread attention not just to women’s basketball; it also brought a spotlight on women’s athletics around the country and around the world. By 1976, women’s basketball was an Olympic sport.
Don’t believe everything you read about The Mighty Macs being a ‘Cinderella Story.’ The concept of a ‘Cinderella Story’ involves a young lady in unfortunate circumstances beyond her control – the team, coached by Cathy Rush, took total control of their circumstances, their opportunities, and their ultimate success.
Cinderella never had the option of just giving up – the fourteen young women on the original 1972 Immaculata team could have quit. Women’s college sports were in no way taken seriously in 1972, but these young women had something to prove to themselves, their coach, and the world.
The film opens with a naïve Cathy Rush applying for an open position for Immaculata’s basketball team. The all-women’s college in Chester County, Pennsylvania, a few miles from Philadelphia, had what was loosely called an athletic department. There was no budget to speak of; there were more important things to do with the school’s funds than spend them on silly uniforms or equipment.
Cathy, portrayed by Carla Cugino in the film, had an idea. As a star basketball player in high school and college, she thought that if the girl’s learned to play like the best men’s teams did, they would become an outstanding team, and that was the key. She wanted to teach the ladies to work as one, as a team.
The film concentrated on Cathy teaching the young women how to work together and how her eye never left her goal. While it was brought to the audience’s attention that the school was under a tight budget, with the possibility of being sold, the script did not show Cathy partaking in any of that drama.
There were a few moments where some of the girls showed doubt and distractions, but the film’s writer/director, Tim Chambers, made sure Cathy kept her focus on the prize. From the very beginning, Cathy carried and handed out buttons with a simple statement: “We Will Be #1.”
Cathy’s husband Ed, played by David Boreanaz, showed a bit of early 1970’s chauvinism as the put-off husband, but she gently put him in his place. He accepted and later embraced the fact that he was going to support his wife’s dream.
As a native of the Philadelphia area, I enjoyed the little things I saw on the big screen: seeing a letter jacket from Cardinal O’Hara High School, the local radio references, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the audience to realize that the only diner-type restaurant in the area with running antique miniature trains was Jimmy John’s Pipin’ Hot Hot Dogs, a clever and unexpected local connection.
There was no bad guy in The Mighty Macs. Ellen Burstyn played the role of a ‘strict’ mother-superior with a hidden heart of gold, Mother St. John, and character actor Malachy McCourt played the business-oriented Monsignor. There was very little heart-tugging drama to pull us to the edge of our seats. All of the action the film needed was on the court, watching the individual players learn how to create a winning team. It was about the mission of attaining that “# 1” position.
Marley Shelton was Sister Sunday, the nun who was questioning her calling until she heard an answer, in the echoed sound of the basketballs bouncing downstairs.
I have heard, and I agree, that there has never been a bad baseball movie. Moving to another sports movie genre, The Mighty Macs has set a very high standard for basketball movies- men’s or women’s. The Mighty Macs is an incredible feel good movie, based on an incredible true story. It’s not a Cinderella Story though- it’s more like a Little Engine That Could story.