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Area High School Hoops Legend Succumbs To Rare Ailment

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Chilli Head via Flickr (Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)
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In most respects, our attitudes about women’s athletics have evolved with the times. As more and more girls and women run, jump and throw with the boys and men, we’ve come to better respect their contributions and accomplishments.

There are, to be sure, occasional missteps. Recently, ESPN reporter Adam Schefter tweeted out his joy at the upcoming NFL draft, lauding it as the first sporting event since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schefter, whose young daughter is a budding reporter, conveniently forgot that the WNBA had held its draft a week before. 

 

There’s no reason to think that Schefter, who apologized for the oversight, committed an intentional act of sexism. 

His was of the usual variety, one of omission, of blissful ignorance that a whole gender actually takes part in sports with the same aspirations and skills as men.

That became clear this past week as news of the passing of Tori Harrison spread. 

Harrison, who died earlier this month, was one of Baltimore’s first girls high school basketball superstars, leading her Towson Catholic Owlettes to a No.1 national ranking in the 1982-83 season, when the team won 37 of 40 games. 

Harrison, who finished her high school career as the area’s second leading all-time girls scorer, and her teammate guard Gert Scott belong in the company of such Baltimore boys basketball icons as Larry Gibson and Skip Wise of Dunbar and Calvert Hall’s Juan Dixon. 

Yet, Harrison and Scott are not spoken of in the same reverential tones as boys. Whether the slight is intentional or accidental, it’s still there.

After graduating from now-defunct Towson Catholic, the 6-foot-4 Harrison went to Louisiana Tech, one of the early women’s college powers. There, she became a dominant center, leading the Lady Techsters to a pair of Final Fours and an appearance in the 1987 national title game.

She remains the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots and is eighth on the career scoring list. 

As the WNBA was still years away from creation, Harrison turned to coaching after graduation, serving first as an assistant at Wake Forest, Clemson and Alabama, before becoming a head coach here in Baltimore at Coppin State in 1992.

There, she posted a 20-win season, the first in school history and one of only five such campaigns that Coppin has ever had. She was named conference coach of the year that season and moved on to be an assistant for seven years at Minnesota and then at George Washington.

Harrison became head coach at Rider in 2004 and remained there for three seasons before resigning for health reasons. 

Indeed, Tori Harrison, who died at the age of 54, lived the last 23 years of her life diagnosed with Machado-Joseph Disease, a rare genetic ailment that results in a lack of muscle control. The disease claimed her father and brother and forced her to use her wheelchair for the last 13 years.

I never saw Tori Harrison play. I’m not alone in that, and we all are the poorer for it. Perhaps the way we make it up to her is to ensure that we give all budding Tori Harrisons the opportunities to shine and the exposure they need to be successful. 

And that’s how I see it for this week. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games…whenever they return.

 

 

 

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