“I was sitting in the office when he came in and said, ‘What are you doing sitting on your ass when there is so much to do?’ ” Eisenhart said. “I got up and went outside and put together a softball league. I’ve been at it ever since.”
He would go on to 52 years working recreation in city parks — 55 years if you count the three years Eisenhart spent as a seasonal employee — almost all of them spent on Staten Island and his home borough of Brooklyn.
It will all end later this month when Eisenhart, now 73 and working as a recreational director at Staten Island’s Lyons Pool Gym, will force himself to retire.
Forced because Lyons said if he had not mistaken his car gas pedal for the brakes last November he would work “another 50 years if I could!”
The mistake sent Eisenhart’s car careening off another car, tree and stationary objects, landing him in the hospital for two weeks.
He’s back at Lyons Pool Recreation Center, where chances are you will catch him doing his daily 2-mile walk or doing what he loves most, talking to kids.
“I stayed all this time because I loved the job,” Eisenhart said. “The kids are different today, but most of them just want somebody to take an interest in them.”
The father of four — sons, Jeff and Bruce with his first wife; daughters, Alix and Jessie with second wife, Shelly — now makes the family home in Flatbush, Brooklyn. But he grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, “near Marcy and Lafayette,” the youngest of five siblings. His father died when Eisenhart was 1 year old, so he was raised by his mother, whom he said “fed anybody in the neighborhood who came through her door.”
Six-feet tall, Eisenhart fell in love with basketball as a kid, a passion that continues unabated to this day. “We used to shovel the snow off the court so we could play,” he said. “We would be out there all times of night playing ball.”
He went to Boys High — the “old” Boys High, before it was consolidated into the current Boys and Girls High School — and then to the University of South Dakota on the basketball scholarship which did not last because he and the coach had a parting of ways.
“I liked to mix it up,” Eisenhart said. “We were practicing and I got into this scrape with another player. I was getting the better of him and the coach broke us up. We got into another fight and when I was winning again the coach broke us up. We went at it a third time and when he had me in a bad way the coach said let ’em fight. But when I started winning again he said break it up. So I could not play for him.”
Back in the city, Eisenhart took the city civil service test and went to work as a recreational assistant with Parks. Three years later he was full-time.
He was working at Taaffe Park in Bedford-Stuyvesant when he took another test for promotion for recreational director. The first position that came open was at Brownsville Recreational Center, but the local community leaders told Parks officials they were hoping an African-American would be given the job.
“My boss told them I was the blackest person they had available,” Eisenhart said.
He would run the BCR program for 10 years, organizing baseball and basketball leagues and even officiating basketball games.
“I loved working with the kids,” he said. “The people there looked out for me. When I parked my car kids would tell the other kids this is Ike’s car, don’t mess with it.”
Eisenhart has been working on Staten Island for the last six or so years. He still loves basketball, but hates what modern-day pro teams have done to the game.
“You have an entire team playing one- on-one ball,” he said. “No fundamentals. All run and gun, showboating.”
His favorite team nowadays? The Connecticut Huskies women’s team. “They play the game the way it’s supposed to be played,” Eisenhart said.
“They set up plays from the top of the key, they hit players on the give and go. Real basketball.”
He’ll be in the stands tomorrow when the Huskies take on Villanova in Philadelphia, sitting in the Villanova section wearing the Connecticut sweat shirt he’s wearing in this picture.
If he had his druthers, Eisenhart would be wearing a prized sweatshirt bearing girl’s team coach Geno Auriemma’s likeness.
“I can’t find one,” he said. “They only gave those to season-ticket holders. So this one will have to do. I just hope I don’t get into a fight.”
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