O God of Players: The Story of the Immaculata Mighty Macs

O God of Players: The Story of the Immaculata Mighty Macs

by Julie Byrne
     
 
Between 1972 and 1974, the Mighty Macs of Immaculata College -a small Catholic women's school outside Philadelphia -made history by winning the first three women's national college basketball championships ever played. A true Cinderella team, this unlikely fifteenth-seeded squad triumphed against enormous odds and four powerhouse state teams to secure the championship

Overview

Between 1972 and 1974, the Mighty Macs of Immaculata College -a small Catholic women's school outside Philadelphia -made history by winning the first three women's national college basketball championships ever played. A true Cinderella team, this unlikely fifteenth-seeded squad triumphed against enormous odds and four powerhouse state teams to secure the championship title and capture the imaginations of fans and sportswriters across the country. But while they were making a significant contribution to legitimizing women's sports in America, the Mighty Macs were also challenging the traditional roles and obligations that circumscribed their Catholic schoolgirl lives. In this vivid account of Immaculata basketball, Julie Byrne goes beyond the fame to explore these young women's unusual lives, their rare opportunities and pleasures, their religious culture, and the broader ideas of womanhood they inspired and helped redefine.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Imagine a tiny college with 800 students winning the national championship in women's basketball. Immaculata College (IC), near Philadelphia, did that in 1972-and for the following two years as well, despite a miniscule budget and no athletic scholarships. How this was accomplished and what it meant to the players, fans, nuns, and the Catholic community in Philadelphia are the subject of this book. Perhaps it is surprising that Catholic girls played basketball so passionately and skillfully, but for many reasons sports were always big among Catholics in Philadelphia, and the church's extensive school system fed Catholic colleges like IC. The author (religion, Texas Christian Univ.) used interviews with former players to illustrate how sports and conservative Catholic womanhood were not at odds. This book occasionally uses overly academic language, but mostly it is entertaining and eyeopening, as when the author describes the four layers of uniform worn (including baggy cotton stockings with garter belts!) right up to the mid-Sixties. Students in women's studies, religion, and sociology would benefit from this well-documented book. Recommended for all academic libraries and larger sports collections.-Kathy Ruffle, Coll. of New Caledonia Lib., Prince George, BC Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Only a Game NPR

Terrific... [Byrne's] nostalgic about the days when a little-engine-that-thinks-it-can could actually win a national championship, and clear-eyed enough to understand that the implementation of Title IX has erased the possibiity that it could happen again... [T]he story of the team that won three titles on a shoestring and a prayer makes a good book.

Choice

The reader will discover how these pioneers opened the door for young girls across the US, encouraging them to enjoy sports, especially basketball, and have fun idolizing their role models, who did their part to liberate national attitudes about women's athletics. This is a great book. Essential.

Religious Studies Review

This ingenious study should find a place in both survey and seminar courses.

Booklist - Mary Frances Wilkens

The sports-religion connection is examined in fascinating depth, as Byrne probes the traditional Catholic position on sports, effectively building the case that basketball allowed young women the opportunity to be expressive without sacrificing their Catholic beliefs... In an era when athletes' values are routinely under attack, this is perhaps the most unusual sports book of the season.

Dallas Morning News - Nancy Kruh

O God offers a vivid portrait of how faith can develop strong athletes, and how sports can help grow faith.

NPR (Only a Game)
Terrific... [Byrne's] nostalgic about the days when a little-engine-that-thinks-it-can could actually win a national championship, and clear-eyed enough to understand that the implementation of Title IX has erased the possibiity that it could happen again... [T]he story of the team that won three titles on a shoestring and a prayer makes a good book.
American Catholic Studies Newsletter - Kathleen Sprows Cummings

With Byrne acting as translator, their stories are compelling indeed...Her readable style was one of the reasons why I assigned it.

The Journal of American History - Pamela Grundy

O God of Players details this basketball world, offering a window into an unexplored corner of American women's sports and American Catholicism.

American Historical Review - Richard Ian Kimball

This book is an important contribution to the history of American religion and American sport, this represents a signal achievement... If god moves in mysterious ways, we clearly need more local studies like this to understand how people live out those mysteries in everyday life.

Booklist
The sports-religion connection is examined in fascinating depth, as Byrne probes the traditional Catholic position on sports, effectively building the case that basketball allowed young women the opportunity to be expressive without sacrificing their Catholic beliefs... In an era when athletes' values are routinely under attack, this is perhaps the most unusual sports book of the season.

— Mary Frances Wilkens

Dallas Morning News
A vivid portrait of how faith can develop strong athletes, and how sports can help grow faith.

— Nancy Kruh

Knight Ridder Tribune
O God offers a vivid portrait of how faith can develop strong athletes, and how sports can help grow faith.

— Nancy Kruh

Philadelphia City Paper

The Immaculata story has long needed a comprehensive telling, and Julie Byrne does an excellent job inO God of Players....[It] is a necessary addition to basketball literature.

Philadelphia Magazine

Byrne's engaging social history of the Macs examines everything from the development of Philly's fearsome hoops culture to racial and religious bigotry to the challenge of coaching young ladies whose role model was the Virgin Mother.

American Catholic Studies Newsletter
With Byrne acting as translator, their stories are compelling indeed...Her readable style was one of the reasons why I assigned it.

— Kathleen Sprows Cummings

The Journal of American History
O God of Players details this basketball world, offering a window into an unexplored corner of American women's sports and American Catholicism.

— Pamela Grundy

American Historical Review
This book is an important contribution to the history of American religion and American sport, this represents a signal achievement... If god moves in mysterious ways, we clearly need more local studies like this to understand how people live out those mysteries in everyday life.

— Richard Ian Kimball

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231127486
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
10/08/2003
Series:
Religion and American Culture Series
Pages:
312
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Robert Orsi

In this important study of young Catholic women playing their way into American life, Julie Byrne broadens our understanding of the history of religion and sports in the United States. Making it clear that Catholic school life was anything but dour and joyless or that discipline means only restriction and limitation, Byrne's exciting story captures the delight and achievements of young Catholic female athletes.

Robert Orsi

In this important study of young Catholic women playing their way into American life, Julie Byrne broadens our understanding of the history of religion and sports in the United States. Making it clear that Catholic school life was anything but dour and joyless or that discipline means only restriction and limitation, Byrne's exciting story captures the delight and achievements of young Catholic female athletes.

Robert Orsi, Warren Professor of American Religious History, Harvard University

Jon Butler

O God of Players recaptures the lost world of Catholic women's basketball between 1940 and 1975 where faith, sweat, and even innocence triumphed as America and Catholicism changed uneasily and irrevocably. Julie Byrne describes how a group of remarkable young women transformed their spiritual and secular lives alike through a love of basketball and church. O God of Players is charming, surprising, insightful, and often moving—wonderfully original and wholly successful.

Ann D. Braude

Nuns playing basketball in the novice house? Catholic girls having fun in the 1950s? Julie Byrne's delightful book complements studies of a 'culture of suffering' among American Catholic women to show that lived religion also includes pleasure, and lots of it. Her ingenious choice of the Mighty Macs, unlikely national basketball champions, suggests a world of new venues by which to access the religious life of Catholic laity.

Meet the Author

Julie Byrne is an assistant professor of religion at Duke University. She lives in Durham, North Carolina.

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