November 26, 2021 

New film asks what happens ‘After the Game’

Film illustrates powerful impact of women's athletics

Mary Hegarty remembers hearing about a local student-athlete who earned a scholarship to play basketball at UCLA. Her name was Ann Meyers. In 1974 she became the first-ever woman athlete to receive a four-year athletic scholarship to any university. It was then, two years after the landmark passage of Title IX, that Hegarty recognized she could get her education paid for while playing women’s basketball at the highest level of competition.

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Hegarty would also go on to earn a scholarship to UCLA. She played for the Bruins from 1981-84 and is one of the program’s 15 greatest players.

“UCLA in many ways is responsible for almost, pretty much everything I have: from my education, most of my friends, the opportunities I’ve had, my occupation. It really kind of has triggered everything in my life,” Hegarty said in the film After the Game: A 20 Year Look at Three Former Athletes.

The film tells the story of the 1999 women’s college basketball season at Chapman University, a Division III program in Orange, CA. Hegarty was the head coach of Chapman that season. The film weaves her story into the stories of Chapman players Michelle Ruzzi and Polly Neves.

Women’s sports in the late 90’s

April Abeyta, the film’s director and co-producer, was also a member of that 1999 Chapman University team. She played for Coach Hegarty and was teammates with Ruzzi and Neves. As a senior film student in a pre-smart phone world, Abeyta captured behind-the-scenes footage of the team’s 1999 season on an analog videotape recorder. The film juxtaposes behind-the-scenes archival footage from the 1999 season with present-day footage of Hegarty, Ruzzi and Neves.

The mid-to-late 90’s were a time of significant growth and visibility for women’s basketball and women’s sports in general. This film, documenting the 1999 Chapman season, takes place in the context of those rapid changes.

“In the mid to late 90’s…three big things happened,” Abeyta told The Next. “In ’96, the US women’s national basketball team [competed in the Olympics]. So me and my friends who were playing sports, that was sort of our dream team. There was the ’92 men’s first professional NBA with all the superstars dream team. But in ’96 that was the women’s dream team.”

“A year [after the 1996 Olympics] was the launch of the WNBA,” Abeyta continued. “It helped that there was a team in the city that I grew up in–and that was Sacramento, the Sacramento Monarchs. And then the ’99 women’s national soccer team and just the excitement. And I think that was another really important event that had just occurred right as I was starting the filming of After the Game.”

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Life after sports

Despite the historical context of the late ’90’s women’s professional sports boom, After the Game is not a film about opportunities to play women’s professionally. It’s a story to represent the 99.1% of NCAA women’s basketball players who will not continue on to play professional or Olympic basketball. It illustrates real-life examples of how athletic participation can translate to future professional success.

Each of the women in the film found professional success. Each of the women attribute a portion of that success to her time in athletics. Hegarty is no longer a coach but has found success and meaning in a new professional role in athletics administration. Ruzzi applies the lessons she learned as a senior point guard to her current challenges launching a new business. Neves, a transfer student during the 1999 Chapman season, reflects on her transfer process as she ponders a present-day career change.

These women’s stories represent the majority experience of young people who play college sports. For so many student-athletes, participation in competitive sports ends at graduation. A college sports career that doesn’t end in a professional sports contract isn’t a failure, though. Far from it. In fact, 96% of women in C-suite level positions in the U.S. are former athletes.

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After the Game shows there can be life beyond sports. It reminds viewers that the skills and lessons learned from sports participation are transferable to future success. Film director Abeyta thinks this message is particularly salient in this particular historical moment.

“We know that a lot of student-athletes are really struggling right now with their own motivation,” Abeyta said. “The pandemic has really hit people, obviously it’s hit like everybody. It’s been a tough, tough year and a half. For athletes, even though the season’s back on and they’re starting to get back to some degree of normality…I think that one opportunity this film has, coupled with the pandemic–this pandemic has really forced people to revisit what’s really important in life, right? I think this film can help some of these young athletes re-think that too.”

After the Game is now available on demand and for online purchase across a variety of streaming services including YouTube and Prime Video. Abeyta recommends this film for a broad range of viewers, especially current student-athletes and coaches.

Written by Tee Baker

Tee has been a contributor to The Next since March Madness 2021 and is currently a contributing editor, BIG EAST beat reporter and curator of historical deep dives.

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