Girls’ basketball was changing when Mary Scharff entered Paul VI High School in 1969.
That was true in terms of the rules of the game and the playing style and athleticism that pioneers such as Ms. Scharff brought to the sport.
Ms. Scharff, 64, who won a state title at Paul VI and a national title with the legendary “Mighty Macs” at Immaculata University, died Monday of complications from a 40-year battle with a brain tumor.
“She was so far ahead of her time,” said Deirdre Kane, a Paul VI teammate who went on to be the longtime women’s basketball coach at West Chester University. “With her skill set, she could step into the modern game.”
Ms. Scharff, who graduated from Paul VI in 1973, was the school’s first female 1,000-point scorer.
Before 1970, high school girls’ basketball was a 6-on-6 game, with only three players from each side allowed to cross half-court. Ms. Scharff was part of the vanguard of the sport, as it became a faster-paced, 5-on-5 game with greater emphasis on speed, skill, and outside shooting.
“Mary had vision. She could see not just one but two passes ahead,” Kane said.
Atlantic Ten Conference commissioner Bernadette McGlade, a star at Gloucester Catholic in the mid-1970s, recalled Ms. Scharff’s shooting ability.
“She was such a pure shooter. As an opponent, it was hard not to be mesmerized and awed by her shooting skill,” McGlade said. “Coach [Bert] Nolan used to say, ‘Stop watching. You have to defend her.’ Mary was a lovely, humble superstar who broke barriers as an athlete and a person.”
At Immaculata, Ms. Scharff played on the 1974 national-championship team. She was a Kodak All-American as a senior in 1977 and finished her college career with 1,231 points.
Ms. Scharff starred in the first women’s college game on national TV, as Immaculata beat Maryland at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“If there had been a three-point line in the ’70s, she would have scored thousands of points,” teammate Judy Marra Martelli said in a tribute to Ms. Scharff on Immaculata’s website. Martelli is the wife of St. Joseph’s University men’s basketball coach Phil Martelli.
After graduating from Immaculata, Ms. Scharff played briefly for the California Dreams of the short-lived Women’s Professional Basketball League.
Ms. Scharff was inducted into the South Jersey Basketball Hall of Fame and the Camden County Hall of Fame. Her Immaculata jersey hangs in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Ms. Scharff was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the late 1970s. She underwent multiple surgeries and rounds of radiation and chemotherapy but remained active in the sport.
Ms. Scharff, who worked as a computer analyst for Subaru, was a longtime coach. She was an assistant at Villanova, head coach at Immaculata from 1987 to 1998, and head coach at Archbishop Prendergast and Hallahan high schools. She also was an assistant coach for the Paul VI girls’ team from 2002 to 2012 under Paul VI assistant athletic director Donna Camardo.
“I remember telling her, ‘Mar, I’m not taking this job unless you do it with me,’ ” Camardo said.
Ms. Scharff’s birthday was Nov. 11, and she often wore uniform No. 11. “So it was 11-11-11,” Camardo said.
Ms. Scharff was the second youngest of six children who grew up in a sports-crazed family in Audubon, Camden County.
“The mayor lived behind us, and he had a little half-basketball court, and she used to watch out the window, and the addiction grew from there,” said Jim Scharff, Ms. Scharff’s older brother. “Once she was able to climb the chain-link fence, it was all over.”
Pat Scharff, Ms. Scharff’s younger brother and a standout player at Paul VI in the mid-1970s, said his sister loved to play with her brothers and male cousins, who lived next door.
“She went toe-to-toe with everybody,” Pat Scharff said.
Ms. Scharff was preceded in death by brothers Gerry and Joseph. She is survived by brothers Richard, Jim, and Pat, and numerous in-laws, cousins, nieces, and nephews.
A viewing is to be held Monday from 6 to 9 p.m. at Healey Funeral Home in Haddon Heights. A Mass of Christian Burial is to be celebrated at 11 a.m., Wednesday, at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Haddon Heights.
Pat Scharff said commemorative cards at his sister’s viewing and funeral will feature a photograph of her driving to the basket during her playing days at Immaculata.