Saturday, September 19


Philly Daily News
By Mari A. Schaefer Inquirer Staff Writer
Jonathan Wilson / Inquirer Staff Photographer

Cathy Rush, who guided Immaculata to the first women's national basketball championship, on the set of a film based on that season.

When the movie about Immaculata College's improbable rise to the national women's collegiate basketball title opens next spring, you might want to look for Sue Forsyth O'Grady in the crowd scenes. She stands 5-foot-2, wears a 1970s-style polyester green pantsuit with neon-red roses in the print, and is just behind the game announcer. If you look closer, you will see she is wearing the championship ring from 1972. "I was a senior," O'Grady said. "We did it for the fun. That's why we played. I just loved playing basketball."

O'Grady was among some 1,400 crew and cast members and volunteer extras who crowded into Hollinger Field House at West Chester University yesterday for a 12-hour filming for The Mighty Macs.

The movie details how tiny Immaculata College and coach Cathy Rush amazingly won that championship in 1972.

The team went on to win the next two championships. The film, which stars Carla Gugino as Cathy Rush and Ellen Burstyn as the mother superior, started filming in late May around Philadelphia's western suburbs. The independent film has a budget of $6.5 million - small by Hollywood standards. Director and screenwriter Tim Chambers, a Cardinal O'Hara High and University of Pennsylvania graduate, secured the rights to the story from Rush, the college, and the Immaculate Heart sisters.

For the original players and families, the film was just another reason to get together. The group has stayed close over the years, and as they caught sight of one another in the crowd, the old friends exchanged hugs.Most have cameo roles in the film, O'Grady said. She also played a nun in a scene filmed earlier at St. Colman Roman Catholic Church in Ardmore."It didn't sink in for years," O'Grady said about the importance of being on the first women's national championship team.

"It was just a whole big exciting moment in their lives," said Anne Daley, 82, whose daughter Pat Opila played on the 1972 team. Daley, of Springfield, Delaware County, and other family members sat in as extras at yesterday's filming. Her daughter, who became Pat Penater when she married, died of cancer at age 29.

"This is a surreal experience," said Denise Conway Crawford, 55, of Havertown, who played on all three championship teams. "I wish we knew back then what an impact this had on women's basketball, and maybe we would have paid attention to the details." Rush, only a few years older than her players, still plays the coach in the group. She enlisted her friends to help unload supplies from her car for a forthcoming summer camp she runs at the college.

Now living in Sarasota, Fla., Rush breezed through the crowd, stopping to give autographs to young girls and chat with people who recognized her.

"It is really pretty overwhelming," she said. "Every time someone says the word movie, my stomach turns. It's exciting." Rush said it was "divine providence" that brought an exceptional group of female athletes together at the right time.

"The story is unbelievable, except it happened," Rush said.

Contact staff writer Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149 or