Reaching out across the world of historic Catholic women’s colleges today to congratulate Immaculata University and their famous women’s basketball team on the induction of the “Mighty Macs” into the National Basketball Hall of Fame! That’s right, a women’s basketball team from the 1970’s that won three successive championships while playing in jumpers and practicing in hopelessly inadequate gyms is now enshrined alongside the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar! At the enshrinement ceremony on Saturday night, IU women’s basketball heroes Cathy Rush and Teresa Shank Grentz and their teammates from the championship seasons 1974-1974 stood on stage along with NBA stars like Alonzo Mourning and former University of Maryland Coach Gary Williams. What a great tribute to women’s sports and Immaculata! Watch Theresa Grentz’s acceptance speech…she really tells it like it was!!
I know a little bit about how amazing it was for Immaculata to win those championships in those days before Title IX mandated equality of opportunity for women in sports and education. I learned to play basketball in the church basement that was used in the film Mighty Macs (a terrific movie in the “Hoosiers” genre) that tells the story of Immaculata’s championship team. Typical of so many places where girls learned to play ball, the dank basement of St. Colman’s Church in Ardmore, PA was very small, had a low ceiling and bad lighting. When I arrived at Trinity in the Fall of 1970, our “gym” here was no better — the room underneath Notre Dame Chapel had an even lower ceiling and a concrete floor. But those of us who loved the sport learned to jump and run at least well enough to play against the area universities whose women’s teams did not have much better conditions prior to 1972 when Title IX became the law. Trinity’s team won a few games, but we watched from afar with awe and pride as Immaculata blew the lid off the world of women’s basketball. They were simply amazing!
Interestingly enough, Immaculata’s championship team reached its zenith in the early years of Title IX when the women’s teams at Immaculata’s bigger rival coed schools, notably West Chester, were able to get into the big gyms to practice and had more of everything. Like most of the Catholic women’s colleges back then, Trinity included, Immaculata’s basketball team did not have a lot of “stuff” — but they had heart! They overcame doubt, a lack of funds and considerable competition to win three championships and reach the finals for many years.
Title IX had great impact on the opportunities and conditions for women throughout education, and particularly in women’s collegiate sports. Trinity’s own great sports center, the Trinity Center for Women and Girls in Sports, is part of the legacy of Title IX since we realized that being a women’s college did not mean that we should keep playing under the chapel. We must be competitive in sports as much as in academics. Yet, sometimes, when I see the long lists of rules for NCAA competition and even longer lists of expenditures that every school must make as part of the group, I find myself thinking about “the old days” when some great women athletes just played ball and even won despite the odds. We should never lose the real spirit of the game — the heart, the courage, the teamwork, the true sense of purpose that a great competition should foster in student athletes.
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