A basketball legend is coming to Mount Aloysius this Friday evening for a very special event. Coaching icon Theresa Grentz will introduce the film "The Mighty Macs" for a screening at historic Alumni Hall. She was happy to accept the invitation from her high school teammate, Michele Foley, wife of the College President.
The movie celebrates the true story of the Immaculata "Mighty Macs" women's basketball team, which won three straight AIAW national championships (pre-NCAA) from 1972 to 1974. The '74 final was the first nationally-televised women's athletic event. Theresa (Shank) Grentz was instrumental in those championships; a one-thousand point scorer, she earned First-Team All-American honors three times, as well as Collegiate Player of the Year during her Immaculata career.
"I think it's a story that is made for the movies because it's so improbable what happened," Grentz said during a phone interview from her home near Philadelphia. "You take a coach who never coached before and some very good players from the Philadelphia Catholic League, and off we went."
While the movie focuses on head coach Cathy Rush (the players' real names aren't used in the film), the talent and camaraderie of the young women from the Philadelphia Catholic League is arguably the real story behind the Mighty Macs. Grentz remembers the League, considered the best in high school athletics at the time, with Friday afternoon games drawing crowds of 4,000 or more.
Grentz says the movie is only loosely based on her collegiate team; poetic license was certainly taken in bringing the story to the silver screen. The film depicts the Mighty Macs as a down-and-out-squad, but Grentz is quick to point out that they lost only 2 games during her career there (and she's still upset about those two losses!)
"You can't take it to heart," she says. "It was a nice story, people liked it. They laugh, they cry, they smile. We had no idea the history we were making at the time. We were just going to school, finding a way of doing what we were supposed to doand as a result, 40 years later they're still talking about it."
Still, the basketball pioneer embraces the impact the movie has had on audiences.
"The thing about the movie is that it's about women who had a dream," said Grentz. "For young girls it's the opportunity to look on the screen and say they did it, so we can do it."
Her accomplished career at Immaculata was just the beginning of the Theresa Grentz story. She happened into the St. Joseph's University coaching job while teaching 6th grade in Philadelphia. She went on to become a decorated college bench boss at Rutgers and Illinois, and also coached the U.S. Olympic Team. She's known in Central Pennsylvania as a former Immaculata teammate and friendly rival of former Penn State head coach Rene Portland.
Some of the real Mighty Macs have cameo appearances as nuns in the movie (look for Theresa Grentz in a habit). Portland chose not to participate in the film, which was a reunion of sorts for the players.
"The team is still very, very close," Theresa said. "We would do anything for each other."
Retired from collegiate coaching, the basketball legend is a motivational speaker and starting her own company, Grentz Elite Coaching, offering some individual instruction.
The audience at Mount Aloysius is in for a treat. Unscripted, Grentz is a wonderful story-teller in her own right, and is expected to share her unique memories of Immaculata, women's athletics, and more. The public is invited to attend the screening of "The Mighty Macs" at no charge Friday evening at 6:45.
And while she accepts the historical inaccuracies in the inspiring film, Grentz wants movie-goers to know the background behind the movie.
"We believed in each other and we dared to dream, that's what made our team what it was," she said. We just never wanted to disappoint our teachers, our family, or ourselvesthat's the real story of the Mighty Macs."
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.