The movie about the fabled basketball team opens this Friday — did you know the original title was “Our Lady of Victory”? — but it took a long time to happen.
The AP has the scoop:
Here’s a sports fairy tale that never gets old: Underdog team with few resources but a lot of heart beats the odds and comes out on top.
That is what actually happened to the 1971-72 women’s basketball squad at tiny Immaculata College.
It’s also what happened to “The Mighty Macs,” a small-budget movie about the team’s improbable national championship that overcame its own obstacles to make it to Hollywood.
The film starring Carla Gugino, Marley Shelton, David Boreanaz and Ellen Burstyn hits theaters Friday.
“We really needed to be patient and believe in the story and the right distribution platform for the story,” said Tim Chambers, who wrote and directed the film. “… It was definitely worth the wait.”
The true story of the Mighty Macs has always read like a movie script.
It starts in 1971 with a 23-year-old named Cathy Rush. The former high school basketball star was coaching the ragtag team at Immaculata, a struggling Catholic school for women near Philadelphia. She was barely older than her players.
The Macs, who had no home court because their field house had burned down, practiced at local gyms and played all their games on the road. When they earned the 15th seed in the first-ever women’s U.S. collegiate championship tournament in 1972, players held raffles and sold toothbrushes to raise money for the trip.
Immaculata upset three teams to reach the finals. There, the scrappy Macs faced off against nemesis West Chester in a nail-biting rematch — and won. Cue the confetti.
In the following years, Rush was approached many times about making the Macs’ Cinderella story into a movie. But every would-be production turned into a pumpkin.
So Rush was understandably wary when Chambers came to her around 2004. But she was won over by his strong backing — former Philadelphia 76ers president Pat Croce is an executive producer — and personal connections to the story.
Chambers had grown up in the area and, as a child, saw Rush and the Mighty Macs practice at his Catholic grade school’s gym. And he was taught by the same nuns who run Immaculata — the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
“The more I was around him, the more I was convinced that if anyone could do this, he could do it,” Rush said.
Filming for “Our Lady of Victory” — the movie’s original title — began in 2007 at Immaculata and, ironically, in the gym of nearby West Chester University. Chambers cast Katie Hayek, a former University of Miami shooting guard and theater major, as star player Trish Sharkey.
But Hayek was diagnosed with cancer as cameras were set to roll. A wig, tenacious work ethic and rearranged shooting schedule helped mask the effects of chemotherapy, which Hayek said successfully treated her Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Then, just as the $7.5 million production wrapped in 2008, the recession hit. Chambers couldn’t find a distributor.
Find out what happened next.