Rush Hour
In the paint with Basketball Hall of Famer, Hollywood darling and former Immaculata University coach Cathy Rush
by Bill Donahue



Perhaps no single person did more for women’s basketball than Cathy Rush, former coach of the women’s basketball team for Chester County’s Immaculata University.


Rush coached the Immaculata squad from 1972 to 1977. In that time she led the school to three consecutive national titles and built a remarkable record of 149 wins and 15 losses. Her story—coming out of nowhere to shape the Immaculata team into a nearly unbeatable juggernaut—reads like something out of a Hollywood screenplay. Hollywood agreed, in fact, with October 2011’s “The Mighty Macs” (released on DVD on February 21)—starring Carla Gugino, Ellen Burstyn and Philly native David Boreanez—illustrating the early triumphs of Rush’s historic career.


Rush, who was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000, the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008, now splits her time between homes in Florida and New Jersey. Her ties to the Philadelphia suburbs remain strong, however; one of her sons has a home in Doylestown, and she often stays with him and his family, especially when the overnight sports camps she started in 1971—Future Stars—get running full tilt in the suburbs and keep her working “70 to 80 hours a week.”


Suburban Life caught up with Rush—also a breast-cancer survivor—a week after she sat on the dais as an honored guest at the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association’s 108th Annual Dinner in Cherry Hill, N.J. We spoke about her truth-is-stranger-than-fiction career, her big-screen experience and, among other things, why she never wore high heels to practice.


Suburban Life: In regard to your early coaching career, we hear a lot about how you were so different and so ahead of your time, that you had no fear. Did you see yourself that way?

Cathy Rush: First of all I was in my early 20s when it all took place, and you hear a lot about the arrogance of youth. You don’t think you’re a trailblazer; you just sort of plod and plug along, and all these things are happening to you. … In retrospect, we were the first women’s team ever on national TV. We were the first women’s team ever to play in Madison Square Garden. When you look back, it all strikes back at you. It’s the 40th anniversary of that whole event, and I can’t believe it’s been that long. Age is a beautiful thing, because we all remember the events of that period more fondly. I think we remember ourselves as being better or more important than we probably were.


SL: Why were your teams so successful?

CR: Good players make good coaches, and great players make great coaches. I had great players and just had to get out of their way. … Theresa Shank Grentz, who was supposed to go to Mount St. Mary’s but ended up going to Immaculata as a commuter, was the most dominant player of that era, and in the four years she played [at Immaculata], we had a record of 72 [wins] and 2 [losses]. Look at Kareem Abdul-Jabar or Bill Walton; a team with a dominant center always has a good chance of winning. We also had Marianne Crawford, who was the best point guard.


SL: What did you like most about basketball? What lessons did it teach you about life and the personal things you’ve been through along the way?

CR: When you look at what people do in life and in basketball, you learn from your mistakes and get better. Look at any sports venue; the people that succeed in sports are the same people that succeed in life—the same values apply. It’s hard work, and it’s learning from your losses and learning from your failures. Whatever failures you’ve had doesn’t mean you are a failure.


SL: How has your life changed as a result of “The Mighty Macs”?

CR: I’m a mother and a grandmother; I have six grandchildren under six years old, and the oldest of them saw the movie and really got it. That Halloween she was dressed as a Mighty Mac. When I look at my family—three grandsons, three granddaughters—I know that at some point they’re all going to see it, which is pretty special.


SL: How did Carla Gugino do as you?

CR: She’s gorgeous, so that’s a wonderful starting point. Someone once asked me an interesting question after they saw the movie: “Did you wear heels at practice?” At the time, I’m looking there and seeing her on screen in those high, high heels at practice. … No, I didn’t wear high heels at practice.


SL: Tell me about Future Stars, your overnight camp.

CR: In 1971 I had started this overnight girls’ basketball camp, and [enrollment] went from 300 to 600 to 1,200 in a sequence of years. … We had the best players and the best young coaches working at our camp—[coach of the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team] Geno Auriemma and [coach of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx] Cheryl Reeve among them. We now have nine locations, with two in New Jersey and the rest throughout the Philadelphia suburbs.


SL: What else should we keep an eye on regarding your future endeavors?

CR: At this point, I’ve gotten back to what I did years ago with a lot of coaches’ clinics, banquets and special events. I had breast cancer in 1990, so I’ll also do some speaking for events [affiliated with that cause]. I have two upcoming speaking events in Dallas and Montana, and Montana is one of two states I haven’t been to yet; North Dakota is the other. I like to talk, so it will be nice to retell the story. It always is.