Tyra Perry of the University of Illinois is the only African-American female softball coach in the Big Ten and a guiding light for girls in the game.
“It is a joy and opportunity to develop young women and to be an example and role model,” she told the Spokesman – Recorder. “In order for young Black girls to say, ‘I want to be a coach,’ you have to see it. It’s great that I am out there and being seen, and hopefully sparking that interest.”
Perry was originally interested in nursing, but began to look into coaching after the suggestion of her head coach at LSU. She’s been a college head coach since 2001, and was tapped as the University of Illinois’ second-ever head softball coach in 2015.
Perry has more than 500 career wins and has made an immediate impact at Illinois, but she also knows her responsibility is greater than winning games and conference championships.
“I make sure that, whenever we’re out on the road recruiting, I try to connect with as many of the minority coaches as possible,” she told FightingIllini.com “I’m very determined to work toward being on the biggest stage at the College World Series. It would mean a lot to have an African American there. You have to have more kids to have more African Americans coaching.”
Perry, who is on the anti-hate and anti-racism committee for the Big Ten, knows that getting more African American girls to play in college is going to be a challenge. According to the NCAA Demographics Database, only 11 percent of Division 1 softball players were Black.
“Travel teams in high school are expensive and there just isn’t a lot of scholarship money, especially when the rosters go up to 24 players,” she told Fast Pitch News. “Girls can get that scholarship money playing basketball or soccer or if they run track.”
She will continue to use her platform for positive change. Perry has had conversations with her team about racial and social justice, and she’s looking forward to implementing change at the conference level.