Home Womens jersey New documentary rediscovers Rutgers’ last national champions

New documentary rediscovers Rutgers’ last national champions

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It took five years of preparation, but the sports documentary “Forgotten Champions” is finally here.

The film, which premiered last week, features the story of the Rutgers women’s basketball team that won the coveted 1982 AIAW National Championship – the precursor to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in ‘today. The Rutgers team, led by legendary head coach and Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Theresa Grentz, upset the mighty Texas Longhorns to win a rare national title for the university.

The documentary delves into a key moment in college athletic history: when the National Collegiate Athletic Association took over women’s sports. Previously, the National Women’s Basketball Tournament had been hosted for a decade by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. In 1982, the NCAA began sponsoring its own women’s tournament, which led to the demise of the AIAW. Rutgers’ championship title would mark the final year of the AIAW tournament.

“This is truly a turning point in the history of women’s basketball and women’s collegiate sports – this pivot from the AIAW to the NCAA,” the film’s co-executive producer Jon Newman said Thursday. “The fact that the NCAA took over women’s sports, and then you had Connecticuts, Tennessees, Louisiana Techs came out of it, and women’s basketball became what it is today. [It] really started then.

The film premiered at the New Brunswick Center for the Performing Arts last weekend after panel discussions exploring the history of Rutgers women’s basketball and the 50th anniversary of Title IX. The film is expected to premiere on the Big Ten Network later this fall or by the end of the year, Newman said. No date has been announced.

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In many ways, the movie was a labor of love from the Rutgers community. Although it was written and co-edited by Sue Hovey, the former editor of ESPN The Magazine, it was co-produced by Newman and Geoff Sadow, both Rutgers and WRSU-FM alumni. WRSU is the university’s student and faculty radio station, which played a key role in the film’s production. The film is also narrated by Carli Lloyd, another Rutgers alumnus and American women’s soccer legend.

The film took a bit of height over half a pitch to even begin. At a radio station anniversary reunion, station alumni discovered the old tapes for play-by-play of the game for the 1982 AIAW title. To their surprise, the audio was recoverable, even after 35 years. So, the members of the station digitized this audio.

Then a backhand.

“We realized the game was not televised,” Newman said. “Because [when] the NCAA took over the original contract with NBC to televise the AIAW championship, [that] somehow transferred to the NCAA. This means that the Rutgers and Texas title match never aired.

The Record story from March 30, 1982 after the Rutgers women's basketball team won the national championship.

The filmmakers started asking questions and eventually reached out to Brian Shank, a former member of the Rutgers women’s basketball team and Grentz’s godson. He remembered that Grentz had kept the movie from the game – and it turned out she had copies of the movie from the main game that were still in good condition.

“We were able to digitize this game movie, and we married the audio from the student radio station and the game movies,” Newman said, “and that’s how this main piece of the documentary came together. .”

Until now, the history of the 1982 Rutgers women’s team had been largely forgotten. The team’s story became a footnote in the history of collegiate women’s sports at a time when the industry was changing dramatically. This film connects the past to the present, allowing today’s athletes to appreciate those who came before them.

This is what happened last week in New Brunswick. The women’s basketball team was invited to the film’s premiere, Newman said, and they were able to connect with members of the 1982 team. The 1982 players were also invited to watch practice current Rutgers team. It all came together when Rutgers women’s basketball enters its new era under the program’s new head coach, Coquese Washington, who is only the third full-time head coach in Rutgers history. ‘crew.

As Newman pointed out, the 1982 women’s basketball team won the last national championship that Rutgers won – in any sport.

“In many ways, it’s the end of a chapter,” he said. “The second chapter is now, ‘What are the opportunities for people to see it?’ …because it’s just an important story to tell.

Women & Sport is a NorthJersey.com column dedicated to female athletes from the recreational league level to those of college and pro. If you have any advice on a North Jersey athlete that should be noted in the column, regardless of age or youth, please message me at [email protected]

Melanie Anzidei is a reporter for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.