O God of Players

O God of Players: The Story of the Immaculata Mighty Macs

Julie Byrne
Copyright Date: October 2003
Pages: 312
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/byrn12748
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  • Book Info
    O God of Players
    Book Description:

    Between 1972 and 1974, the Mighty Macs of Immaculata College -- a small Catholic women's school outside Philadelphia -- made history by winning the first three women's national college basketball championships ever played. A true Cinderella team, this unlikely fifteenth-seeded squad triumphed against enormous odds and four powerhouse state teams to secure the championship title and capture the imaginations of fans and sportswriters across the country. But while they were making a significant contribution to legitimizing women's sports in America, the Mighty Macs were also challenging the traditional roles and obligations that circumscribed their Catholic schoolgirl lives. In this vivid account of Immaculata basketball, Julie Byrne goes beyond the fame to explore these young women's unusual lives, their rare opportunities and pleasures, their religious culture, and the broader ideas of womanhood they inspired and helped redefine.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50195-8
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. x-x)
  5. NOTE ON NOTATION
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xv-xx)
  8. INTRODUCTION PHILADELPHIA HOOP AND CATHOLIC FUN
    (pp. 1-30)

    The big game of the 1946 season fell on a Tuesday evening, the fifth of March. As the dusky winter light faded and the hour of half past seven approached, buses and cars began to park in the vicinity of Broad Street and Montgomery Avenue in center city Philadelphia and empty toward Temple University’s Conwell Hall on the corner. Bundled against the cold Pennsylvania air, Immaculata College students, nuns, priests, alumnae, brothers, sisters, parents, and miscellaneous fans pressed their way past the downtown row houses and sidewalk gawkers toward the brightly lit gym. Inside, the collective heat of a record-breaking...

  9. CHAPTER 1 MAKING THE TEAM, MAKING IDENTITY
    (pp. 31-54)

    For the 1940 season, team tryouts were scheduled for a December afternoon shortly before the Christmas holidays. As late classes ended and stragglers hurried to the gymnasium in Villa Maria Hall’s basement, they were surprised to find more than fifty other girls—about a quarter of the entire student body—already bouncing heavy leather balls and practicing favorite shots. Only in its second season, the team attracted a multitude of Immaculatans enamored of basketball. Many of them came from local Catholic high school squads and wanted to keep playing. Some had missed making their high school teams and saw the...

  10. CHAPTER 2 PRACTICING BASKETBALL, PRACTICING CLASS
    (pp. 55-75)

    When the fire started, dozens of Immaculata sophomores were decorating the Field House gymnasium for their class cotillion. It was Friday, November 17, 1967, a brisk late fall day of last leaves swirling off huge campus oaks and maples. All afternoon, girls twirled streamers, inflated balloons, and hung banners for their big Saturday dance, adorning the interior stage and floor of the granite Field House. Talking about ballgowns and boys, they looked forward to the next evening’s dates with young men from local Catholic colleges. As four o’clock approached, Immaculata gym teacher and basketball coach Jenepher Shillingford said good-bye to...

  11. CHAPTER 3 BODIES IN BASKETBALL
    (pp. 76-112)

    It was fun to be a big-shot basketball player, Immaculatans told me. It was also fun going to practice, taking a break from the everyday world for a couple of hours. But more than anything, players said, it was fun to play the game of basketball. After all, basketball was fundamentally a game about bodies. And it was nothing if not a physical high.

    When Evie Adams Atkinson ’46 talked about her years playing guard for the Mackies, she focused—as so many did—on the physical pleasures of the game. When Evie met me at the door of her...

  12. CHAPTER 4 PRAYING FOR THE TEAM
    (pp. 113-141)

    Through basketball, I have argued, Immaculata players negotiated identity, class, and gender. Few of those I interviewed, however, would have put the significance of basketball in those terms. To them, if their sport had a deeper meaning, it lay in its connection to their Catholic faith. Like everything at Immaculata, basketball was religiously infused. Sometimes, players said, a game wasn’t just a game but a divine lesson, even a cosmic event. The 1974 loss to Queens College was a case in point. It was the twenty-seventh of February, Ash Wednesday on the Catholic calendar, the start of the season of...

  13. CHAPTER 5 LADIES OF THE COURT
    (pp. 142-172)

    In 1934 Josephine Valentine’38 arrived at Immaculata’s campus from a coal town in northern Pennsylvania. Her new college lay far west of the big city, bordered by single-lane, often unpaved country roads. Beyond the reach of most public transportation, Josephine and her resident classmates had few options to leave campus. There was the occasional trip in a friend’s car or a date to a big dance. Otherwise, residents stayed put. Unless they happened to play basketball, that is. The basketball team went places. I reached Josephine by telephone at her apartment in northeast Philadelphia in July 1998. Eighty-one year old,...

  14. CHAPTER 6 CHAMPIONSHIPS AND COMMUNITY
    (pp. 173-205)

    As she stood at the Alumnae Hall podium that Sunday afternoon in March 1972, presidential duties were the last thing on Sister Mary of Lourdes’s mind. Before her sat a reunion of hundreds of alumnae, both newly minted and white-haired, ready to socialize and donate. A charismatic public speaker, Sister Mary of Lourdes took a deep breath and launched into a humorous monologue, taking alumnae back to their school years of yore. But as she talked, her thoughts went again and again halfway across the country, to a place she had never seen, Southern Illinois State University, in Normal, Illinois....

  15. POSTSCRIPT IMMACULATA BASKETBALL AND U.S. RELIGIOUS HISTORY
    (pp. 206-212)

    As the seventies progressed, Title IX began to shape women’s basketball. The AIAW began to include scholarship-granting schools in its national tournament in 1973, and in 1975 Delta State, with scholarship players, won the victory trophy away from three-time champion Immaculata. Cathy Rush coached the school to the AIAW tournament finals again in 1976, where they lost a second time to Delta State, and to the semifinals in 1977, where they lost to Louisiana State University. The balance of power was shifting. As public university programs suddenly found themselves with money to recruit and fund the best athletes, they eclipsed...

  16. APPENDIX A: IMMACULATA COLLEGE BASKETBALL SURVEY
    (pp. 213-216)
  17. APPENDIX B: SURVEYS, INTERVIEWS, CORRESPONDENCE, AND UNPUBLISHED MEMOIRS
    (pp. 217-222)
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 223-272)
  19. REFERENCES
    (pp. 273-278)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 279-292)