Mary Lou Wood has watched or attended thousands of games, from the smallest high school gyms to great college arenas. She's had a front row seat to some great moments in basketball history.
Nowadays, she's among the most loyal fans at Purcell Pavilion cheering on Skylar Diggins and the Irish women's basketball team. She never misses a game.
“They've amazed me they really have,” says Wood, who keeps her own personal stats of select players. “I just think there's a lot of talent.”
At the age of 84, she's watched the game evolve from the early days of roundball, like what happened in the 1986 basketball movie Hoosiers.
“It's a lot of Hollywood, but we always said it's so typical of Indiana basketball at that time,” Wood explains.
The film tells the story of when her husband, Marvin Wood coached the 1954 Milan team to a State Championship. Her husband was the character protrayed by Gene Hackman in the classic sports film.
The David and Goliath game took place when Marvin and Mary Lou were just 26 years old, and the parents of two young children.
This summer, Mary Lou will be a special guest when a museum will be dedicated in Milan. A fur coat she wore in the team's welcome home celebration will be on display at the museum.
She remembers they asked her to speak before the massive crowd that day.
“So when I got up and I looked at the boys and I said, ‘Fellas, it's been a wonderful wonderful weekend. But I hope that you'll remember it's nice to be important. But it's more important to be nice,’” said Wood.
Marvin went on to coach in several other towns, including Northern Indiana. He coached at Mishawaka, Bethel and St. Mary's.
He left a lasting impression on young people, and yet, there was personal heartache too.
“He did so much with these others and we couldn't seem to do it with our own,” Wood says.
Sadly, their son Douglas got into drugs and alcohol and died in a crash.
“You know you wonder why,” says Wood. “Maybe there was a reason. After Douglas’ problems, he was the counselor at the high school and helped many kids through that too.”
Marvin passed away after battling cancer in 1999. But Mary Lou carries on with wonderful memories and a positive, inspirational attitude.
“We used to say the only Bible some people read is through you,” says Wood. “I think we've kind of lived our lives that way. At least we tried to. The Lord's been good to me, and blessed me with good health, so that I can be here and have a world of friends here.”
Like Mary Lou, those friends are basketball fans too. They sit together at the games, and cheer for the Irish.
“I think we are destined to go a long way again,” Wood says. “I really do.”
You can bet, basketball's devoted fan will be watching.
The Milan Basketball Museum is located in an old bank in Downtown Milan. Most of the original team members will join Mary Lou for the dedication this summer. Six of the players went on to coach basketball, no doubt sharing the legacy built by Coach Wood.