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Film / The Mighty Macs

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The Mighty Macs is a 2009note  Sports Story Drama, written and directed by Tim Chambers, Based on a True Story (though with a few liberties taken).

At the start of The '70s, Immaculata College, a small all-female Catholic school outside Philadelphia, is looking for a new basketball coach. The only applicant for the job is Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino), who's only barely out of college herself. Looking for a way to earn some extra money and pass the time while her husband Ed Rush (David Boreanaz) is off working as an NBA referee, Rush accepts the job but finds the Immaculata basketball program in a state of disrepair. The school gym has burned down, the athletic budget is nonexistent, and the stern nun in charge, Mother St. John (Ellen Burstyn), is busy trying to keep the school from closing down because of its lack of money. But Rush cobbles together a team, and with a shy young nun named Sister Sunday (Marley Shelton) as her assistant coach, the Macs carve out some success on the court. They get invited to the national tournament, but with the school in financial trouble, it might take a miracle to get them there.

Described as Hoosiers meets Sister Act, the film is still a fairly accurate account of the rise of Immaculata, which became a dominant force in early women's college basketball, winning three national championships under Rush. She was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008, and the championship teams were inducted as a unit into the Naismith Hall in 2019.note 


  • Artistic License – History: The film gets the basics of the Real Life story correct, but also adds a lot of elements to spice up the narrative. Sister Sunday is completely fictional (Rush didn't actually have an assistant). The players in the film are Composite Characters based on the real players (Trish Sharkey is a fictionalized version of Theresa Shank Grentz, who went on to win a national championship as a coach at Rutgers). The West Chester coach (Carol Eckman) wasn't really an Archenemy for Rush, as portrayed here. Unlike Mother St. John, who's indifferent to sports, the real university president who hired Rush (Sister Mary of Lourdes McDevitt) had been a basketball player in high school and was highly supportive of the team. Also, in the national tournament semifinal game, the Macs' opponent is depicted as Mississippi State University, when it was actually Mississippi State College for Women (now called Mississippi University for Women).
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: Averted, as it's rated G, and writer-director Tim Chambers even turned down a deal with Disney when they asked him to add some crude elements to push it to a PG.
  • Call-Back: A bunch of elements from early in the film are referenced again later—Cathy's "Catherine of Atlantic City" joke, the tunnel under the road near the college, the unusual practice drills.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Immaculata gets crushed by West Chester in the regional qualifier game (the actual final score was 70-38).
  • Down to the Last Play: The semifinal is decided on a pair of free throws after the buzzer. Also crosses with Who Needs Overtime?.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Sister Sunday, though we only see her hair in one scene.
  • Hollywood Nuns: Immaculata is run by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so there are plenty of examples of this, complete with full habits and the contrast of an older, no-nonsense nun (Mother St. John) and younger naïve nun (Sister Sunday).
  • Opposing Sports Team: For Immaculata, it's nearby West Chester State, with an added personal element, since it's Cathy's alma mater, and their coach cut her from the team when she was there. After losing to them in the regional qualifier, they meet again in the national championship game. This is all Truth in Television.
  • Passionate Sports Girl: Cathy Rush, who absolutely loves basketball, is a quintessential example, and she manages to spark enthusiasm in her players as well.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Mighty Macs have a wide variety of backgrounds and skills. A lot of them are on team just have something to do outside of school and family life.
  • Real Person Cameo: The bank teller who gives Cathy money is the real Cathy Rush. The customer who pays money for the lotion but walks away without taking the bottle is the real Ed Rush. The nuns who pass the note down the pew from Cathy to Trish are the actual players of the Immaculata championship team.
  • Save Our Team: The film follows the standard outline for this, with an added Save Our School element, since the college is in financial trouble.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely:
    • When they have a drink in the hotel bar after a road game, Cathy is shocked when Sister Sunday takes off the headpiece of her habit and reveals herself to be a beautiful young woman.
    • Invoked when the local newspaper takes a picture of the team wearing their "Sunday best".
  • Shown Their Work: The period detail from The '70s (fashion, furniture) is impressively accurate. The depiction of women's college basketball from that era is well-researched—it really was quite a ragtag game, usually played in tiny women's gyms, and as Cathy mentions, the game had only recently changed from a six-on-six sport with limitations on dribbling and shooting, to a five-on-five sport more in line with the men's game (though the women had adopted a shot clock, which the men wouldn't do for another 15 years). Those blue belted dress uniforms were also Truth in Television. Also, various biographical details that Cathy mentions were completely true. She was a star player in high school, only to have the school drop varsity sports for girls before her senior year. She was cut from her college team after two years (when the school hired a new coach; in both cases, Rush took up gymnastics instead). And she really is Baptist, instead of Catholic.
  • Underdogs Never Lose: Averted early on as Immaculata suffers some losses as they try to coalesce as a team, but eventually reinforced. In Real Life, Cathy Rush lost just 15 games in seven years as the Immaculata head coach.
  • You Go, Girl!: In some ways averted, since Immaculata was an all-female college (it went coed in 2005), but the general theme of an underdog women's basketball team achieving success fits the trope well.