MARY LOUISE EISENHARDT

Mary Louise Eisenhardt is shown in April of 2006.

There’s no telling the number of lives impacted in the long coaching and teaching career of Mary Louise Eisenhardt, who died Thursday at age 96.

“She is an icon in this town, a legend and a pioneer,” said Harold Lakeman, former Madison Parks Director and longtime Madison Cub basketball historian.

For years, Eisenhardt engaged with a significant number of youth throughout the community — whether it was through coaching, being a physical education teacher or as a swim instructor.

Eisenhardt was head girls basketball when the Madison Lady Cubs advanced to the semistate in 1978, only to lose in the championship game to Jac-Cen-Del, who was coached by Mary Jo McClelland, one of Eisenhardt’s former students.

She played a significant role in the history of girls athletics at Madison. In the 1950s, after she began teaching at Madison High School, she was named to the state Girls Athletic Association board.

When Title IX was passed, it was Eisenhardt who was tasked with leading Madison’s girls sports programs under the new sanctioning of the Indiana High School Athletic Association.

Eisenhardt also was a significant part of the early history of Crystal Beach, constructed in 1938, when she began teaching swimming lessons there each summer beginning in the mid-1950s.

“Crystal Beach was practically the only pool around in those days,” said Lakeman. “We had kids from Scottsburg come in, across the river on buses, and the kids from Hanover came in. They came in from everywhere, and she taught hundreds and hundreds of kids every morning.”

And for years, she was a constant presence at boys basketball games as the cheerblock sponsor back in the days when the girls were dressed so the cheerblock spelled out a big “M.”

Eisenhardt, a 1943 graduate of Madison High School, graduated from Hanover College in 1947, then taught at New Albany Junior High School for five years and one year at Salem High School before coming home to Madison, where she taught from 1954 until her retirement in 1991.

As a leader in the GAA, Eisenhardt was involved with all girls sports — everything from basketball, volleyball, softball, track and even archery and badminton.

“There were a lot of areas that she touched, and did. She’s almost a classic example of a PE (physical education) person coming through that era that did everything. Anything that comes along that does anything with girls,” said Cheryl Hooton, who began teaching at Madison Junior High School in 1973, just after Title IX was enacted that increased athletic opportunities for women.

Because Hooton taught at the junior high, she was not in the same building as Eisenhardt during the school day, but she saw her often in those early years when the school’s girls team began competing against other schools.

“She was in the forefront of coaching girls in our community and she was in places where she had to fight those battles,” said Hooton, noting that she cherished “learning patience” from Eisenhardt. “That was a big lesson for me.”

Volleyball was the first girls sports sanctioned for an IHSAA tournament and Eisenhardt remained the Lady Cubs’ coach for nearly two decades, winning eight sectional championships. She also coached the girls basketball team through 1979 and coached the girls track team until Hooton took over in 1991.

In 2006, Eisenhardt was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. And in 2015, the Madison Consolidated High School track was named for Eisenhardt.

“She was very much part of my mentoring as far as high school sports,” said Hooton, who said she also admired Eisenhardt in the way she conducted herself in the community. “She was not only important in my life, but lots of people’s lives.”

McClelland called Eisenhardt “a true example and forerunner of women’s sports and recreation.” As one of her students prior to Title IX, McClelland said, “Miss Eisenhardt offered so many opportunities for organized play outside her classroom.

After school nearly everyday was GAA.” And occasionally there was “Play Day,” when other schools came to Madison for girls to form teams and compete.

She also fondly remembers coaching against Eisenhardt in that 1978 girls basketball semistate.

“What a privilege to get to sit at opposite ends of the scorer’s table and coach against my mentor,” said McClelland, whose Lady Eagles advanced to the state finals before losing to champion Warsaw that year.

But with all of Eisenhardt’s accomplishments in athletics, her presence at Crystal Beach was also a significant part of her impact with all the youth she taught to swim.

“She was strict” at the pool, and “a lot people didn’t like that, but safety was first and you have to be when you’re running a pool,” Lakeman emembered.

Hooton recalled taking her daughter, Angel, to Crystal Beach to learn swimming “and wanted nothing to do with the water ... Mary Lou took her to the other side of the pool where there was nobody, and she comes back, and she’s a swimmer.”

“I never swim laps without thinking, ‘I have this skill because of Miss Eisenhardt,’ ” McClelland said.

“Crystal Beach Swimming Pool was one of the sites where Miss Eisenhardt left her legacy,” McClelland said. “Generations were impacted by her dedication to teaching swimming and then starting competitive swimming.”

There’s no doubt about Eisenhardt’s legacy in girls athletics in those early years when she had the bulk of the responsibility in moving girls sports forward.

Hooton cited Eisenhardt’s sacrifices — late nights, always being the last one to leave and starting up again early the next day — at a time when the girls had lesser facilities and materials to work with.

“Her influence on girls sports has been tremendous in Madison,” Hooton said.