Luebbehusen led Forest Park to volleyball title


It really bothered Mary Lou Luebbehusen that she couldn’t play sports when she went to school.

Girls couldn’t play sports during her time at Saint Ferdinand High School. Her lone athletic experience was a softball league she competed in during the summer.

“I hated it because I would’ve loved to have played sports,” Luebbehusen said. “At that point in time when I was in school, there was never any mention of girls playing any sports.”

She enjoyed those pickup softball games, and became more interested in athletics when she studied at Indiana University. Luebbehusen took over the track and volleyball teams at Forest Park during the 1973-74 year. Those were the only two sports girls had at that time.

Mary Lou Luebbehusen, 1973

Luebbehusen spent a lot of time and effort learning how to coach sports she never competed in. She had to read a lot, watch whatever volleyball games she could, attend conferences and learned as she went along.

Those weren’t the only challenges that presented themselves, however.

“Being a new sport, the girls coaches had to fight for everything that they wanted for practice time, for whatever,” she said. “We had a hard time even getting papers to report scores. The coaches had a meeting one year and decided we were going to bombard the Evansville Courier with scores and call them in every night until they finally started putting stuff in.

“A lot of the reporters at that point in time, I guess they were used to all the boys sports,” Luebbehusen continued. “There was one comment that he would rather talk/write about football when there’s nothing going on than cover a girls’ sport.”

The coverage might not have come overnight, but success did. Luebbehusen never had a losing season as the Forest Park volleyball coach from 1973 through 1995. She noted that she coached a lot of talented players and teams through the years.

However, the crown jewel came in 1975.

The Rangers dealt with being the sectional runner-up in 1972, 1973 and 1974, but they would not be denied again in 1975. They met Jasper in that year’s sectional championship. Jasper won the first set, 15-8, but scores of 15-1 and 15-11 gave Forest Park the match and the title.

“Part of it was just the girls had decided they were finally going to get past being runner-up,” she said. “The second thing was, there was always the factor back then in the back of your head that you were playing Jasper, and you had to overcome that factor as much as your skill level.”

Luebbehusen forgot that it was Jasper that Forest Park defeated to win the sectional, but she knew both teams were good, and lamented how good of a coach the late Pat Zehr was. She thought the Wildcats spiked better than the Rangers did, but added her players that year were better defenders than anything else.

Prominent players for Forest Park that season included Trudy Albert, who was pivotal against Jasper, and also Mary Sue Kordes, who was essential against Marengo that tournament.

“Trudy was my setter, and Mary Sue was probably my main hitter at that point in time,” Luebbehusen said. “They did a good job leading the girls and taking charge.”

She thought the community showed great support for the team that year. Forest Park drew a bye into the regional semifinals in 1975. The Rangers drew Evansville Memorial, and Luebbehusen thought Memorial overlooked them. Forest Park advanced to the championship with wins of 15-7 and 15-10.

However, Forest Park’s season came to an end thanks to Castle. Luebbehusen’s Rangers lost by scores of 15-2 and 15-0, and ended their season at 17-3.

“They had so many tall girls,” she said. “Team-wise, they probably were taller than us by probably two to three inches all the way across the team.”

Castle’s 38 sectional championships in girls volleyball are tied with Jasper for a state record, though Forest Park has seen success in its own right come sectional time. The Rangers won five straight championships from 1999-2003, and back-to-back in 2008-09.

However, that 1975 sectional championship was the only one Forest Park won with Luebbehusen at the helm, despite winning multiple Blue Chip Conference titles.

“The team that won sectional — I had a lot more talented teams after that, but what was so good about that team is they played so well together,” Luebbehusen said. “There was no one that wanted to be the big man, if you want to call it that. They just worked so well together. They covered everything. They talked so well, and that was probably one of the best teams I had that did that. I’ve had other teams that played well together, but I think they were just so good at it.”

She stayed on as girls track coach until 1983, and she initially coached the whole team by herself without any assistants. One of her favorite memories was coaching Sherry Meyer to state in the 880 yards in 1976.

“I enjoyed both sports, but I think it was getting to the point where I felt I was getting spread thin in track and I wanted to concentrate more on volleyball,” she said.

Luebbehusen could not specify why she enjoyed volleyball more than she enjoyed track. She got to coach her daughter, Kelly, in volleyball before she stepped down, and her sons, Scott and Shane, were also student-athletes at Forest Park.

It was especially hard for her the first year or two she didn’t coach, and misses getting to teach skills and the interactions she got. She spent 33 years teaching classes in social studies, physical education and health split between high school and junior high until retiring in 2005.

“I sew a lot,” Mary Lou said. “I try to watch a lot of IU basketball whenever that’s on, and I just keep up activities with friends. There’s a group of us this goes to Derby Dinner (Playhouse) — or we had been going to Derby Dinner — and another group went down to the center to see the Broadway shows down at Evansville, and I just enjoy socializing.”

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