On Monday, January 14, Immaculata alumna Mary Scharff ’77 passed away at the age of 64. Mary played on the 1974 Mighty Macs women’s national basketball championship team and was named a Kodak All-American her senior year. Mary continued coaching at the high school and collegiate levels, including 11 years as head coach at Immaculata.
When Mary Scharff arrived on the campus of Immaculata University as a freshman, the Mighty Macs had already won two national women’s basketball championships. With the addition of this 5”8’ guard from Audubon, NJ, the Mighty Macs swept through the 1974 season to capture their third consecutive national title.
During Scharff’s senior year, Head Coach Cathy Rush commented, “Mary is the type of player that goes all out the entire time she’s on the floor.” Rush also noted Scharff’s defensive play, which often was overlooked because of her great shooting ability. “She is a leader both on and off the court, and it’s not hard to see why she is admired by her teammates, coaches, and other players throughout the country.”
When Scharff’s collegiate career ended, she amassed 1,231 career points (an average of 15 points per game) and was named a Kodak All-American. She was instrumental in the Macs’ legendary victory at Madison Square Garden and in the first nationally televised women’s game when the Macs defeated Maryland.
“If there had been a 3-point line back in the ‘70s, she would have scored thousands of points,” said Judy Marra Martelli ’75, Scharff’s teammate for two seasons. “She was a wonderful friend and teammate and she will be missed but she is finally at peace.”
After graduating from Immaculata with a mathematics degree, Scharff landed head coaching jobs at both Archbishop Prendergast High School and John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School. She gained further experience as an assistant basketball coach at Villanova University before playing and coaching for the California Dream, a short-lived women’s professional basketball league, in 1979 and 1980. When President Sister Marian William Hoben, IHM asked Scharff to coach the Mighty Macs––competing in Division II at the time––Scharff agreed and coached for eleven seasons [1987-1998]. Her last coaching position was as assistant coach at her high school alma mater, Paul VI High School in New Jersey, where she led the team to the state parochial championship in 1972.
“Mary wasn’t always about wins and losses,” says Patricia Canterino, who played for Scharff from 1988 to 1992, who also went on to become the head coach of Immaculata’s women’s basketball team. She is currently vice president for Student Development and Undergraduate Enrollment. “It was all about being a good person and Mary Scharff was a very, very kind person.”
Not only was she kind, but she had a sense of humor too. “As intense of a coach as she was, you could always make her laugh,” recalls Canterino. After a crushing defeat by West Chester University, Canterino remembers that the team was in the locker room, crying and upset. Sister Marian William (then president) told the team: “Well, you know they’re bigger than you, faster than you and they’re stronger than you.” Canterino replied, “Well, Sister, are you going to tell us that they’re prettier and smarter than us too?” Canterino remembers that Scharff laughed at her comment when most coaches would have still been upset that the team had lost so badly. “But Mary knew there was more than just winning a basketball game,” adds Canterino.
Scharff often commented that her purpose in life was basketball. After being diagnosed with brain cancer, she continued to be involved with the sport she loved.
“My four years at Immaculata….being a Mighty Mac….are the most memorable years of my life,” Scharff said in 1997, in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the first national title. She elaborated, “Going to the regional tournament and then the national tournaments and the Final Fours was overwhelming – I wish I could do it all over again!”