NCS students make some noise for Hall of Fame coach Cathy Rush

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NORTHFIELD – Cathy Rush was welcomed by the fifth-grade students to the Northfield Community School Friday afternoon with a clanging of wooden spoons on buckets and coffee cans. While it is certainly an unorthodox welcome, it is one Rush, the NBA Hall of Fame coach, welcomes with a warm smile.

The former basketball coach at Immaculata College was invited to the school as a special guest of her nephew, Skylar Booth.
“It was women’s history month and I had to write an essay about a woman that I admired so I wrote about my Aunt Cathy,” said Booth prior to the rest of the students arriving in the cafetorium.
“When Skylar called me and asked if I would come and speak to his classmates, I was really touched. I really enjoy speaking with students,” said Rush whose meteoric five-year coaching career, 1972-1977, is captured in the film, “The Mighty Macs.”
Rush grew up in Egg Harbor Township and went to Oakcrest High School where as a freshman in 1961 she was the Atlantic County scoring champion. By her sophomore year Oakcrest had dropped all girls’ sports. But Rush loved the game of basketball and continued to play despite not having a school team. She went on to play basketball for West Chester University. She was coaching a junior high school team when she was hired to take on a college program at Immaculata College.
There was no budget for the team and as Rush recalled, there was no home court for them either because the gymnasium had burned down. They were forced to practice and play at area grade schools.
“We used to laugh and say we were playing in the café-gym-atorium because they were spaces the schools used for everything, but it worked,” said Rush.
The coach, who was married to an NBA referee, brought a work ethic to the court every day and helped to change the face of women’s basketball.
The early women’s game did not permit women to run the full court. Thought to be too frail to run the full court, Rush explained to the students that the game was changing and women were just starting to be recognized as athletes.
“This was a more conservative time and women were not expected to have big dreams,” Rush told the students. “I thought I was going to go to college, get married, work for three years and never work again. But that really did not work out that way.”
Rush said it was about 1972 when her team won the first ever AIAW basketball title.
“In our first game we were beat badly by my alma mater, West Chester. They beat us by 32 points. But we played well enough to make it to the next round and had to win there and finally we made it to the championship game – and who do we face? West Chester, of course.
“The team found a way to win and took that 1972 title with a score of 56 to 52. It was a miracle.”
Rush said it was so different than college programs are today.
“We had no money, we had no team bus. We had parents driving us to games. Our team got to the championship by selling tooth brushes and other fundraisers and even then Rush could only take nine players; not because of rules, but because they did not have enough money to send anyone else.
“I had to tell three players they were not making the tournament. That was tough to do,” said Rush.
There were no cell phones; when they won a game she would call her husband and let him know the score.
“It did not feel real,” she said. “It just felt like another win on the road. But when we pulled into the Philadelphia airport in the middle of the night and there were hundreds of fans and nuns cheering for us, it all sunk in what we had accomplished and it was a very special time,” said Rush.
The Mighty Macs did it again in 1973 and 1974 and made it to the championship every year for the next four.
“By then we had a lot of fans coming to our games. And those nuns who would bang the buckets at every game, well Rush said, “We thought that was worth about 10 points in every game. The noise could be pretty intimidating.”
As for the nuns in the film, “The Mighty Macs,” they are all former players of Rush; they were asked to do a cameo. Some of those players themselves went on to great careers in basketball like Rene Muth Portland, the women’s head coach at Penn State for more than 25 years, and Theresa Shank Grentz, who coached strong Rutgers and Illinois teams.
The students asked Rush why she left coaching at Immaculata after all her success. Her answer was two-fold. With the introduction of Title IX, which offered scholarships to female athletes, Immaculata was not going to offer any money to students – that was one reason, but the other was more about being a mom.
“I took a year off to be with my kids and did not want to miss that time in their lives,” said Rush.
She went on to start and run Future Stars Sports Camps and raise her two sons.
When she was first nominated for the NBA Hall of Fame in 2000 but did not get enough votes to make it in, she was sad until she received an email from one of her sons saying, “You might not be a Hall of Fame coach; you are certainly a Hall of Fame mom.”
“That put it into perspective for me,” said Rush.
She was voted in in 2008 with Dick Vitale, Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon.
“Pretty good company I would say,” Rush said.
Her afternoon visit ended with the students giving her a second chorus of can pounding and meeting with the students personally, signing the very buckets and cans the kids were clanging in her honor.

Photos and Video by Suzanne Marino

To watch a video of her visit see http://youtu.be/NGVcFE_lFAA. 

Cathy Rush, former coach of the National Champion Immaculata College Mighty Macs, with her nephew, Skylar Booth who invited her to visit the Northfield Community School Friday, May 25.   Coach Cathy Rush is second to “nun” with the Northfield Community School fifth-grade students at an assembly Friday afternoon.   Basketball coach Cathy Rush signs an autograph for fifth-grade students Friday at Northfield Community School.


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