From Pittsburgh Courier/Rob Taylor, Jr. - Courier Writer
Monica Harrison grew up in Rankin, and attended Shady Side Academy.
She’s always been enthused with softball, playing the game since the age of 4.
She was on Shady Side Academy’s team in high school, and also played in the summer league R.B.I. (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program through the Pittsburgh Pirates.
She played softball at Bucknell University, telling the Courier her primary position throughout her playing career was outfield.
Now, she has a new primary position: first-ever head softball coach at Carnegie Mellon University.
The announcement was made in June 2017, a few months after the university announced it would add softball as an intercollegiate sport, beginning with the 2019 spring season.
“As the first head coach in program history at CMU, the brevity of this position is on my mind every day,” Harrison told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview. “Being a Black female head coach is an interesting dynamic in and of itself. There aren’t many of us out there. In my sport, I am in a very highly selective group. Being black is something that I have had to think about most all my life because I have been in the minority most of my life.”
Harrison comes to CMU following a two-year stint as an assistant coach at Arcadia University. She was the program’s first full-time assistant before the 2016 season and helped Arcadia to consecutive Middle American Conference Commonwealth Division III Championship appearances, along with two straight Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Division III Championship Tournament titles.
“Monica is an experienced softball coach and professional who has achieved a great deal during the course of her career. We were truly impressed with her vision for our new program and her commitment to student-athlete experience,” said Director of Athletics Josh Centor in a release. “We had a talented pool of applicants and Monica emerged as the clear choice to lead our softball team.”
Prior to Arcadia, Harrison spent six seasons at Stevens Institute of Technology, where she assisted in all facets of the program from its inception as a varsity program.
“I think I am an ideal candidate for the role because my life experiences demonstrate the transferable skills necessary for building this successful program,” Harrison told the Courier. “I went to a high academic institution and was a D-I student-athlete so I understand the experience. I worked on Wall Street for eight years while coaching part-time. My skills from being a Business Manager within several different departments at the firm provided me the operational skills needed to running this program. All that coupled with my coaching experience—eight years of coaching demonstrate my knowledge of the game. Starting a new program is never easy, but the resources and support from everyone at the university has helped me pave the way for creating a successful program possible.”
Harrison was encouraged to apply for the CMU head coach position by her husband, along with her head coach and athletic director at Arcadia. “I knew it would be an amazing opportunity and a natural next progression in my career,” Harrison said.
Harrison has racked up more “frequent flyer” miles than ever before over the past ten months, scanning the country to find the best athletes. CMU’s high academic standards present an additional challenge when recruiting. But Harrison wants athletes on the Tartans who have attributes that shine on—and off—the field.
“I want kids whose work ethic, passion and devotion to the sport are the same for their academic careers,” Harrison told the Courier. “Athletics are an outlet for D-III athletes. They are playing professional ball after college. I need them to know that what they do in the field does not define who they are. The relationships they make and the impact on people’s lives that they make will be what defines them and how they are remembered.”
Harrison earned a bachelor’s degree in economics with a concentration in sociology and minors in legal studies and African American studies from Bucknell in 2007. A four-year letter winner for the Bison, she served as team captain for her senior year and earned all-academic honors in the Patriot League.
Carnegie Mellon’s softball team will compete in Division III, a division that sports past champions such as Virginia Wesleyan, Texas Tyler, and Tufts, who won three consecutive national titles from 2013-15.
Harrison knows that building a formidable team is important, but so is her role as one of a small percentage of African American head coaches, not only in softball, but in sports across the entire collegiate spectrum.
“As Black coaches, we are uniquely positioned to use our roles to change the narrative of how African Americans are viewed,” she said. “One of the reasons I left Wall Street to pursue coaching full-time was because I wanted to make an impact in people’s lives. As a coach I can do that with my student-athletes. By coaching the whole person, teaching empathy and compassion, I truly believe that we as coaches can help develop a better generation of people who will go out and impact the world.”