Cathy Rush would rather be playing golf at home in Sarasota. Instead, she's calling from Philadelphia, doing publicity for The Mighty Macs, a movie based on her trailblazing career in coaching.
Rush led the 1972 Immaculata College (now University) women's basketball team to the first-ever national collegiate championship — then two more for good measure. Back then its was called the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIWA) before the NCAA took over. Rush, 62, was later voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame alongside her Sarasota neighbor, sportscaster Dick Vitale.
The Mighty Macs focuses on the first title, after Rush (played by Carla Gugino) takes over a team at a small Pennsylvania college run by Catholic nuns. Rush spent a few minutes talking with the Times about seeing herself played in a movie, what The Mighty Macs didn't get right, and why nuns are nicer than she originally believed.
What kinds of disadvantages did the Macs face in 1972?
People ask if we had a small budget. We had no budget. Uniforms were handed out at the beginning of the year and taken back at the end. We traveled to games in private cars. There was no meal money. We'd play a game at 7 o'clock and I had no idea if anyone had eaten.
Immaculata was an all-girls school, so we were top dogs getting whatever resources the school could put together. When we went to the regionals (tournament) we went to the school (officials) for help and they looked at us like we were crazy. Nobody had ever asked for money before, for an athletic team.
Name one thing the movie gets wrong about your story.
(My ex-husband) Ed Rush would like to say he was a bigger supporter than he's portrayed in the movie. I was with him last night, with our grandchildren, and he's really offended at that. He was a huge supporter of the team right from the beginning. The kids on my teams loved him. I've learned the Hollywood word now: treatment. You have to set up a little bit of conflict (in movies).
What's it like seeing yourself portrayed in a movie?
It's very strange. The first time I saw a rough cut, the opening scene where Carla goes in to meet the nuns… I'd never met a nun before. I'd heard many bad stories from some of my Catholic friends. So, I'm watching the movie and the nun says (in a stern tone): "Catherine Rush."
My stomach dropped. It struck me that this is me, up there. I'm trying my hardest to get over that. It's amazing, exciting and humbling. It's also a bit disconcerting to see you, me, on the screen.
And you changed your mind about nuns?
My feeling about nuns wasn't the most positive. But to meet these women, and see how loving and giving they were… I've always said if I'm ever depressed I'd go back there. I loved when they would go to the games. When they walked into the gym it was so disconcerting to the other team. Our team felt we had God on our side, you know?
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365.