I MMA C U L ATA U N I V E R S I T Y
was our flight home. When we reached the airport, we found out that our
tickets had been canceled because the school had scheduled us to return
on Saturday, and we had missed our original flight. Cathy and Sister Mary
of Lourdes were on the telephone between Chicago and Immaculata,
trying to figure out how to get the team back to Chester County. But all
was not lost. We were rescued by Cas Holloway, a successful real estate
developer in Malvern. Not only was he a very wealthy man, but he was also
a philanthropist, a good friend of our president, and an ardent Catholic
who believed strongly in the power of prayer. He was certainly the answer
to our prayers that day. His response to Sister’s dilemma was, “Send them
home first class!”
So we flew back to Philadelphia first class. When the flight landed, and
we pulled up to the gate, the pilot announced, “Will the Immaculata team
please stay on the plane.”
The West Chester team was on the same flight, sitting in the back.
They had to walk down the aisle past us and into a crowd of 500 of our
supporters, who were eagerly waiting to greet us. We finally disembarked
into a packed terminal, amid the hugs of rows and rows of fans. Students,
faculty, family, friends – even strangers – had all come to welcome home
the “conquering heroes” (heroines?) of the “Cinderella Team.” I doubt if
there was a dry eye in the airport.
Then we went home. A small plaque in my office reminds me daily of
this amazing journey. That’s about it.
The day we returned to school, the Public Relations Office brought us
out for a photo shoot. Our uniforms smelled awful, but the PR person
insisted that we pose in them. We didn’t have our sneakers with us, so
they took the picture with the long tunics and our dress shoes. Another
fashion first for Immaculata.
We did bring home shirts from Illinois State. After we returned to
campus, we played an exhibition game against the faculty, and we wore
the Illinois State shirts. The celebration seemed to have no end.
My only disappointment that season was the fact that we didn’t receive
championship rings. When I was at O’Hara, I had always wanted one.
Although we were champions of the Catholic League in my freshman,
sophomore, and junior years of high school, we just couldn’t make it that
final year – and, of course, no ring!
After we defeated West Chester for that National Championship at
Normal, Ill., I thought that might all change. “We’re going to get rings,”
I assured the team. “We won the championship. I just know they’re going
to give us rings!” My teammates just laughed. “Theresa, be realistic,” they
said, “We’re not getting rings.”
But I was insistent. I suppose I should have known better. At the Awards
Banquet at the Covered Wagon Inn, instead of rings, Mother Claudia,
Mother General of the IHMs, and Sister Mary of Lourdes presented us
with rosary beads – plain brown wooden rosary beads.
The next day I was called to Sister Mary of Lourdes’ office. “Theresa,”
she said, “I understand you’re upset.” “No,” I told her, “everything is good.
I’m fine with this.” “But I was told that you’re a little upset,” she repeated.
Then she added, “Theresa, you know those rosaries will serve you better
than any ring.” (Did I mention that I still have—and still use—and still
love—that pair of plain brown wooden rosaries?)
I still don’t know if we understood the significance of that first National
Women’s Championship. No, we hadn’t stormed the court, and nobody
had cut down the net. Four of our starters from that first title game –
Maureen Mooney, Maureen Stuhlman, Denise Conway, and I – knew how
big it was to play for the Philadelphia Catholic title before a sellout crowd
at the Palestra. At that point, winning the Catholic League meant more
to a lot of us than winning the AIAW tournament. That was our frame of
reference. We thought it was the end of a wonderful adventure. How little
About this same time, we receivedword that Immaculata’s president was
to be changed at the end of the school year. After 18 years as a deeply loved
and popular administrator, Sister was being sent to another assignment.
The news came as a shock to the tiny school’s community. “Lourdsey,” as
she was affectionately called, was especially close to the basketball team,
of which she was a strong supporter. During her tenure, she oversaw the
construction of seven new buildings, including Alumnae Hall, and the
enrollment doubled. She was replaced by Sister Marie Antoine, a lovely
woman whom I was privileged to call my friend, but Sister was not up on
her sports terms.
Sister Mary of Lourdes, then-president of Immaculata,
welcomes Cathy Rush and the team at the Philadelphia
Airport after their first championship title.