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Staring Down Giants: The Story of the Mighty Macs

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Five smooth stones, a young boy with a great deal of courage, and a giant. We all know the story of David & Goliath well. The details are simple yet profound. The Philistine army had gathered for war against Israel. No one wanted to stand up to a certain fearless giant who was making everyone’s life miserable. No one except a lad who likely wasn’t even shaving yet.  With a shout of, “You come against me with a sword and spear, but I come against you in the name of the Lord!” David defeated his giant.

All it took was faith for David to see that Goliath was merely a mortal man in defiance. He took an impossible situation and with God’s help realized he could overcome it, fighting to save his people and himself. With a proper perspective, David realized that anything was possible.

While certainly not a challenge of biblical proportions, the new movie The Mighty Macs illustrates the importance of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds.  Set against the backdrop of the early 1970s and the monumental Title IX ruling in college sports, The Mighty Macs tells the story of the 1972 Immaculata College women’s basketball team that rose from obscurity to win three national titles in a row against colleges that dwarfed the Catholic all-girls school in enrollment.

With a student population of just under 500 students, a gymnasium that had burned to the ground the previous spring, and an athletic budget that was non-existent, first year coach Cathy Rush realized anything was possible.  And why not?  The Mighty Macs had nowhere to go but up.

“There are people who come into your life and they change it forever because of their vision and their hunger,” explains The Mighty Macs director Tim Chambers.  “It is the way they empower you, the way they transform you.  That is Cathy Rush.”

“She (Rush) was very young,” remembers former player Judy Marra Martelli.  “She was kind of quiet.  She didn’t have this great bubbly personality when you walked in the gym.  But she was very dedicated.  You could tell she had a mission and it was to make us the best basketball players we could be.”

With a roster of just eight girls and the determination of their coach, Immaculata College slowly but surely shaped into a winner.  Led by Theresa Shank Grentz, the Mighty Macs played every single game on the road that season, winning all but one.  This was no easy feat but one the team embraced due to the indomitable spirit of Coach Rush.

“She taught us that this is your moment,” says Shank Grentz, who would go on to coach the 1992 U.S. Women’s Olympic Basketball team.  “This is it.  You don’t get any more chances.  You only get so many games.  Take advantage of them and be ready.  If the game is at 7pm you need to be ready to play at 7pm.  You need to put your signature on your work.”

For her part, Coach Rush had very little coaching wisdom to offer her squad.  Not much older than the players and with just one year of coaching experience at the junior high level, she did possess the same quality that David so powerfully demonstrates in the Old Testament.  She realized that if they were fearless of their foes they could defeat giants.

“Be not afraid,” says Shank Grentz.  “If you are a young person, a coach, or you are in a position of leadership it is so critical that you know that you will make difficult decisions or decisions that might be a little risky.”

Over the course of three magical seasons, the Mighty Macs lost just two games, winning more than 100.  Sister Marian William Hoben, who was on the faculty at Immaculata College in the early 1970s, believes the team had a certain quality that may have contributed to such monumental success.

“We make a big fuss over who knows how to lose gracefully,” says Sister Hoben.  “But what about the people who know how to win gracefully?  There aren’t too many.  This team never gloated about themselves.  They never said how great they were.”

Five smooth stones and the will to defeat a giant.  This is what David possessed.  Likewise, the Mighty Macs were facing a giant and didn’t have much in their arsenal to rectify the situation – a not so glorious past and a future that leaned more toward bleak than bountiful.  Yet, the courage of a coach and a team that believed in her paved the way to hardwood glory.  Kind of like David.

How about you?  Do you find yourself alone with a giant and just a few small stones in your pocket?  If you do, the solution is quite simple.  Ask God for help in overcoming your enemy.  The results will astound you.

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