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Ellie Noak

Kinesiology and Health Education alumna Ellie Noack ’53, ’59 reminisces on a pioneering career as a physical education leader

“There was never a doubt from junior high school on what I wanted to do with my life,” says Ellie Noack about her long career as a teacher and leader of K-12 physical education. “I enjoyed competition. I enjoyed the activity. And though I didn’t know if I would like teaching. I loved it.” Noack, who completed a bachelor of science in physical education and a master’s of education from the College of Education at the University of Texas, returned to her hometown of Port Arthur for her first teaching job. She later taught in Houston before returning to Austin to teach PE at Baker Jr. High.

“I couldn’t wait to get back to Austin,” she says, laughing, “I promised myself that the next time I left this city, it would be in a box!”

“Austin was a little ahead of the game,” Noack explains. “There was more acceptance of women in the physical education field and in K-12 administration. “I feel so fortunate that I entered my career right when things were on the brink of change, when they began to accept women in administration.” But it was much more than a favorable climate that fostered Noack’s success. The educator, who became the first instructional coordinator for physical education for all of Austin Independent School District and was the first woman to become assistant athletic director, was an extraordinarily hard worker who won over skeptics.

Photo of Professor Emeritus Waneen Spirduso, Ellie Noack and Professor John Bartholomew

Professor Emeritus Waneen Spirduso, Ellie Noack and Professor John Bartholomew

“There were a few die-hards, of course,” she admits, “but in the end, they knew I was going to do the work. I really laughed it off, because when you think about it, no matter who you are, where you are, or what you’re doing, you won’t have 100% approval or acceptance. You just go in and do a good job and people will come around.”

Noack’s days often started at 7:30 in the morning and yawned late into the evenings, when kids and coaches were playing sports on teams. “I’d have felt guilty not supporting the coaches and students out there,” she says. To work that hard, according to Noack, “You have to really like what you’re doing. You have to like kids and expect the best from them. I wanted students to learn something, not just go out there and throw a ball around. I wanted them to learn discipline and fun. The two go hand in hand.”

Noack, who eventually became the first woman to hold the athletic director title in a multi-school district in Texas, credits her parents as well as two UT Kinesiology and Health Education professors with instilling that work ethic within her. “Dr. Shorty Orbison and Dr. Mary Alderson were leaders that I remember so well. They shaped the idea of what you should be doing. Dr. Orbison’s swimming class was so hard. He really worked you till you were exhausted, and as you walked out of his class, he was there at the door to shake your hand. And Dr. Alderson was a taskmaster, and you learned organization from her. To me, they were the epitome of what teachers should be. They were phenomenal.”

She says of her years as an educational leader in physical education, “We accomplished a lot. We were able to add lots of sports and really enhance the women sports. Anybody could have done it, you just had to want to do it and put in the work.”

“I’d really like people to know that whatever it is you want to do, you can do it. Do what you want to and put in the work, and it’ll happen.”

In 2001 Ellie Noack was inducted into the Texas Athletic Directors Association’s Hall of Honor. In 2003, AISD named a sports facility near LBJ High School the Ellie Noack Sports Complex. And this year the Kinesiology and Health Education department of the College of Education inducted her into its Hall of Honor, which recognizes the achievements and contributions of faculty and former students to the department and to the professional fields related to physical activity and health.

Noack, who retired in 1989, says all of the accolades she’s since amassed have been like the “icing on top of a wonderful cake. I couldn’t have been happier with my career. I had a great time.”

“And I’m still a ‘Horn. I’ve held season tickets to Lady’s Longhorn basketball ever since season’s tickets existed. UT is my pride and joy.”

Photos by Christina S. Murrey