All things considered, “The Mighty Macs” contains most of the elements of a typical sports movie: motivational characters, a group of misfits, impossible odds, and, in the end, victory hanging on the last play of the game.
“The Mighty Macs” chronicles the journey of Immaculata College’s women’s basketball team from a shabby group of girls with an inexperienced coach to the NCAA’s first-ever women’s basketball champions in 1972. However, unlike other feel-good sports movies, it sends a particularly inspiring message about women staying committed to themselves and to one another while juxtaposing their dreams alongside those commitments.
Cathy Rush, played by Carla Gugino, shows up on campus to apply for the job of basketball coach at Immaculata, a Catholic all-girls college on the brink of bankruptcy. Rush is “not ready to assume her role in the world” as a stay-at-home wife and mother. Despite rundown facilities, outdated uniforms and an apparent lack of support from the college’s head nun and trustees, she accepts the job because coaching had been a dream of hers.
“The Mighty Macs” opens in hundreds of theaters Oct. 21. The real-life Cathy Rush attended a special screening Oct. 11 at Heritage, mingling with the audience at a reception beforehand and answering questions afterward.
Throughout the movie, Coach Rush juggles her new marriage with her relationship with her team (the Mighty Macs of the title) and the assistant coach she drafts from among the nuns. Initially, her husband, a professional referee, seems frustrated that his wife would rather coach basketball than stay at home and appreciate him as the breadwinner. Meanwhile, Rush leans on her assistant, a young nun struggling with her own vocation. Her assistant encourages the coach to express her love for Ed – rather than dismiss him – but also to continue in the job.
In one tender scene, Coach Rush comforts a player who was hoping to marry her boyfriend after graduation, a dream she had held for a while. When the player fails to show up to practice, reneging on her responsibility to the team, Rush goes to the girl’s house and finds out she is going through a breakup. Rather than chastising her, Rush has the player list her special traits, encouraging her.
Toward the end, Rush delivers an inspiring speech before the championship game. It is OK to want to win, she tells her team, for they committed themselves to “the race” for victory.
The uplifting message of “The Mighty Macs” isn’t only for young women. It’s for all those who value their commitment to themselves and to others – and still have the courage, as the movie’s Coach Rush says, to follow their dreams.
Mary Katherine Cavazos is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. Click here for more information on interning at Heritage.