As a volunteer at PAHRC, I have spent a lot of time cataloging and doing inventory for various collections, one of which is the Robert and Teresa Halvey Photograph Collection, which we hope to digitize soon.  Among these photographs, I’ve come across many images of sporting events and teams, including photographs of the “Mighty Macs.”

March is a month of basketball, when the NCAA championship tournament takes over sports pages and airwaves. But March is also Women’s History Month and at the intersection of these two things, we find Immaculata University, home of the “Mighty Macs.”

Forty years ago this month, the women’s basketball team of Immaculata College, as it was known then, won the first women’s national basketball championship and won it again in 1973 and 1974.  This team from a small, Catholic women’s college outside Philadelphia garnered national recognition for women’s basketball and women’s collegiate sports.  The team is still garnering national attention with the 2011 release of the film, The Mighty Macs.

Women had been playing collegiate basketball since 1893 but it was only in 1971 that a full court, five player game was officially adopted.  Now men and women were recognizably playing the same sport.  Immaculata still preserved some of the more modest aspects of early women’s basketball.  Their players wore skirts on the court until the 1974-1975 season.  But these women still played aggressively and intensely – running, jumping, and reveling in the opportunity to play hard.

Immaculata vs. West Chester, 1974

The 1972 championship team just barely made it into the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) tournament that year. (The NCAA Women’s Division Championship was not inaugurated until the 1981-82 season.) Though the team had a 24-1 record under coach Cathy Rush that year, most people thought the tiny women’s college couldn’t compete at the national level.  But at the tournament in Normal, Illinois, the team won game after game and finally defeated their rival West Chester State (the school that had handed them their single defeat that season) in the championship game with a score of 52-48.

Coach Cathy Rush, 1974

The following year, the Mighty Macs repeated their success but with a much bigger audience.  Local sports writers covered the games and the entire Immaculata College community supported the team, including the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who had founded the school.

Immaculata vs. Stroudsburg State, 1974

In the 1973-74 regular season, the Mighty Macs were nationally recognized and their games were major sporting events.  They played the first nationally televised women’s basketball game against the University of Maryland.  The team played Queen’s College in the first women’s game in Madison Square Garden. The Macs boasted a 35-game win streak that year and a third national championship.

Immaculata vs. Stroudbsurg State, 30th victory, 1974

The Immaculata team was welcomed at Philadelphia International Airport by a crowd of their supporters.  Family, friends, and supporters of the Immaculata community all turned out.

Returning to Philadelphia after the team's third straight championship, 1974

The team went on to place second in the AIAW tournament for the next two years and made it to the semifinals in 1977.  Cathy Rush retired from coaching that year and Immaculata’s dominance of women’s basketball waned as public universities, with more money for recruitment and scholarships, began to take over.  The passage of Title IX in 1972 allowed more women than ever to play sports but shifted the spotlight away from the small women’s college in Chester County.  Nevertheless, the women of Immaculata College, both the basketball team and their supporters, proved to the nation that women could play basketball and play it well.

The photographs shown here are from PAHRC’s Robert and Teresa Halvey Photograph Collection.

Sources:

Byrne, Julie. O God of Players. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.
“Remember the Glory Days!, Program for the 25th Anniversary of First National Women’s Collegiate Basketball Championship won by the Mighty Macs of Immaculata College”. Immaculata, PA: Immaculata College, 1997.