Guru's Acceptance Speech at Immaculata Athletics Hall of Fame Induction
It’s homecoming weekend at Temple University, my alma mater, but tonight I’m here at Immaculata becoming one of your Hall of Famers, or, as one person recently asked me: Does this mean now that you are an honorary Catholic woman?
I’d like to thank the selection committee and everyone else involved for this special honor and I’m especially thrilled for my fellow and sister inductees, especially because, quite honestly, when I first received my notification last spring, I thought to myself: They put the entire 1972 team in the first class last year so now they must be running out of candidates.
And when it comes to the thanks, without getting into a lot of names around me over the years, though the women’s basketball poll was actually then-sports editor Jay Searcy’s idea, conceived from his New York Times background during the heyday of the Immaculata-Queens rivalry, there have been many industry colleagues on my side to help the cause while from your side, nothing gets done without the coaches and players performing at their best to provide a reason to chronicle their stories.
First, I’d like to clarify a few things – I did not rig three AIAW tournaments and one in the NCAA so your Marianne Staley and Theresa Grentz could win national titles as coaches as well as doing likewise in another NCAA event in 2000 leading to a Final Four set up in Philadelphia, so Rene Portland’s Penn State squad would be a participant.
You, know there at times the way my life has gone that unlike The Mighty Macs film, it is quite the opposite here at the podium where I open these remarks by saying you are now looking at a true story based on a movie.
In a recent phone call to Cathy Rush, she asked, in terms of the acceptance, how much time are “They” giving you and I replied – it’s about the same resistance the sisters gave you when you tried to turn the place into big time.
And learning from you, Cathy, I’ll probably go about it the same way.
I told Cathy that if I can fundraise to get Patty Canterino, your marvelous current women’s basketball coach and athletic director, an increase in her contract, then I might be able to buy a few extra minutes I’m going to take anyhow to tell the tale.
You know when the movie came out, people kept asking if I had a part, and I told them that, no, I came along just after the championships, but, of course, had I known the way the script would stretch a few things, then I might have talked Tim Chambers into a scene or two.
In fact, here’s how one scene could have gone – true story. – Cathy was so far ahead of everyone in the area of media promotion and when I started out and approached AIAW, then dominated by conservative philosophy out of the Midwest, about trying to launch a national weekly women’s basketball poll, a response came back in the mail, and for you youngsters who are here, that’s mail, not email, in the form of a position paper saying, quote, “Women’s athletics should not get involved in newspaper games like polls, for it will lead to the evils of men’s athletics.”
And who would have believed then that one day men's athletics would become part of Immaculata.
So anyhow, I actually then thought, what the heck, why bother? Until ---- I went to one of your postseason dinners in 1976 when Marianne was a senior and I was so inspired that night that immediately afterwards I thought, if I don’t do something, this could all eventually die.
By then word was getting around about this guy at The Philadelphia Inquirer doing nice things in the media for women’s athletics, and as a result the AIAW elders were softening their stance.
So one night back then, Cathy, Ed and yours truly were having a few lemonades around the corner on Lancaster Avenue and I was giving them the latest scuttlebutt at a time when Cathy was making some progress in what she wanted to do to enhance the program.
Then Cathy says to me about our common cause: “Listen. You take care of AIAW and I’ll take care of the nuns.”
There’s another tale from early on involving this place that gets told, especially to new generations of players in the Lone Star state over the years and it begins: One cold night at Immaculata.
Texas comes up here in the winter of 1976 to play the Mighty Macs over at Great Valley High and despite all you might guess at the largess of the Longhorns’ bank account for travel, when they came up from the Heart of Dixie, they stayed right here on campus in the dorms, which, back then, would be shuttered at midnight.
Texas was then coached by eventual Hall of Famer Jody Conradt and the women’s athletic director, who was on the trip, was Donna Lopiano, one of the great proponents of women’s athletics and equality.
So the game is over, Cathy says to me, You’re in charge of postgame hospitality, I have to go somewhere, take care of Jody and Donna.
It’s a cold winter night, we shoot over to a restaurant in Valley Forge and now we’re working our way back down below here on that narrow lane through the grotto, but it’s after 12 a.m.
So, you know what that meant. And at first no one was found to open the doors to the dorm and Donna says, Well, Mel. It looks like we’re staying at your place and Jody says: We can’t do that. It won’t look good because we just got ranked.
In the early days of the poll, attendance was not always great but the late great North Carolina State coach Kay Yow always remembered the time when your team came to their place and because each team was ranked giving some relevance to the event, several hundred people were already lined up outside the gym in Raleigh during a raging blizzard several hours before the game.
And I remember one night here in those days about the time there was a brief newspaper strike that Saint Joseph’s, with a ranking, came out here to play and there were actually scalpers and a large line outside Great Valley even though there was no advance coverage.
I said at the beginning of these remarks that when I got word of this honor, I did have some wonderment, why me? – I mean, I’m not an alum. I certainly can’t get facilities built on campus here the way my fellow inductee Tom Ford got things done.
But the reality is, we are all family nonetheless. As I go through my life, and the things I’ve achieved, I always marvel when younger coaches and players say to me, “Tell me about those days at Immaculata.
And here’s something else as we look at life’s daily evolvements over the years since that championship run:
Game film has become video. Typewriters, which I first used, have been outdated by computers, which have been outdated by smart phones and tablets.
Newspapers have been outpaced by the internet, which has seen Facebook get eclipsed by twitter for breaking stories.
But right here at Immaculata, where we celebrate at this exceptional event tonight, time may stand still in terms of the glory of the past, but the University continues to move forward into the future.
Some things never change. Your students, and by that I mean, not just your athletes, still compete at the highest level of desire every day. And likewise, the university itself is still a big time player in the modern world.
In some ways it’s a bit melancholy, we can’t go back to the innocent fun days of cake sales to raise travel money, and postgame tea and cookies has transformed into wine and cheese.
Yes, some things are gone. But Immaculata has stood the test of time – going from College to University, from a small women’s school to a thriving co-educational institution overcoming every challenge along the way.
Everywhere I have gone, everything I have achieved, there has always been a piece of your university with me. Immaculata endures for the ages.
When I was out here one night back in 2007 to watch a scene for the movie being shot in the Rotunda, during a timeout, Tim Chambers introduced Cathy, who was here, and me to the cast, saying of myself to them, “We are able to do this today because he was here back then.”
But I say to you tonight, I am able to do what I do because you were here then and you’re still here now. – And once again I thank you.
Some quick notes. The Guru went second following Tom Ford and noted right off the cuff that Tom's speech was actually two minutes longer but when the Guru learned Tom was a finance director he purchased the time to add to his own speech.
Cathy Rush, Theresa Grentz and Denise Conway-Crawford of the original national champs were at the Guru's table.
Full details of all five inductees are at the Immaculata website.
In closing out the night, Canterino prononuced the Guru an official Mighty Mac and approved the speech be posted here, on facebook and tweeted as long as the reference to her in the Guru's speech appeared in boldface type.
So consider the request fulfilled :)
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