Illinois, Michigan State softball coaches make history

Tyra Perry of Illinois and Sharonda McDonald-Kelley of Michigan State will meet in a three-game series this weekend that is believed to be the first time two Black female coaches have squared off in a Power Five softball game.

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Illinois softball coach Tyra Perry is seen during a game against Northwestern earlier this month.

Illinois softball coach Tyra Perry is seen during a game against Northwestern earlier this month.

Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette via AP

Tyra Perry of Illinois and Sharonda McDonald-Kelley of Michigan State will meet in a three-game series this weekend that is believed to be the first time two Black female coaches have squared off in a Power Five softball game.

The Spartans were scheduled to play three games at Illinois, starting with Friday’s opener.

Perry said she sees the moment as a sign of progress but was disappointed it took this long to happen. She said there are plenty of Black female head coaches and assistant coaches ready to make the jump to a Power Five program.

Perry and McDonald-Kelley are good friends and they know each other’s families.

Perry was hired in 2015 while McDonald-Kelley was hired before this season. Perry said she joins McDonald-Kelley and Duke’s Marissa Young as the only Black Power Five coaches. McDonald-Kelley’s younger sister, Brittney Williams, is in her second year as head coach at Southern University, a Division I program that is not Power Five.

Perry is in her 22nd season as a Division I coach. She has more than 600 career victories as the head coach at Illinois, Ball State, Western Kentucky and Birmingham Southern. Her Illinois teams won at least 36 games each of the past three years.

McDonald-Kelley led Campbell to a 101-81 record the previous four seasons and won Big South Tournament titles with the Camels in 2021 and 2022 before she took over at Michigan State. Her teams went 50-19 in Big South play and advanced to NCAA regionals in each of the previous two seasons. In 2021, she was named Big South Coach of the Year.

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