Tori Tyson Looks To Make Howard University A Household Name
Just like in any sport, college softball has its blue blood programs. The teams that have been the foundation of the sport for decades. They include the likes of UCLA, Arizona, Oklahoma and Florida.
A school that was not mentioned in that aforementioned list was Howard University. In fact, no team that hails from a Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) has that type of reputation.
That is something Tori Tyson wants to change. The first-year coach at Howard aims to put the Bison on the map of college softball.
“I want everybody in the softball world saying Howard's name,” Tyson said. “I want people talking about Howard. I want people to know what Howard is. I want people to know what Howard's about. I want kids who are going up to their coaches and have Howard at the top of their list. That's success to me. When I walk out to go recruit and I'm out in my Howard stuff, I want kids to get the same kind of big eyes they get when they see some of these bigger universities.”
So far, the road to accomplishing those goals have been tough. The Bison began Tyson’s first season with a 3-11 record.
However, that was to be expected from a program that racked up a 39-168 record over the previous five seasons. During the past decade, Howard’s overall record was 90-122, with the last winning season coming in 2010-11 (24-23).
With a program that is used to losing, Tyson, who played at Nebraska, knew to break that mindset had to be one of her first task when she took the job in November.
“I think that it's the mound work that we're trying to build right now for building for the future. I want Howard softball to be contenders and I want this to be a place people want to go to,” Tyson said. “And so I told them that obviously, our role in this season is to just let ... is to compete. Like that's really all I can realistically expect and that's something that's controllable. We can control us just going out there and competing and not rolling over and making adjustments. That was kind of our two biggest things. I can't expect people who have never won consistently to just turn around and learn that.”
Despite the record, Tyson says her squad is understanding what she and the coaching staff have been teaching.
“We are young, so obviously we've taken a couple lumps. But what I've been impressed with is our ability. We've gotten better, I feel like, every day,” Tyson said. “And obviously, taking the job in November, I think we have about a month and a half, really, of full practice time together. So, we're kind of learning on the fly. So I've been impressed with our ability to compete. They've taken a lot of information that I've given to them and really just trying to do a fast track version of it. So, I've been impressed with that.”
But it is more than just wins and losses Tyson is looking to impact. Having had coaching stints at Maryland, Cal State Fullerton and with the Chicago Bandits in the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) league, Tyson wanted to get back to the HBCU environment she experienced when she started her career at Bethune-Cookman and share it with young women looking for something special.
“With me being an African American woman having an offer to come to the mecca of historically black school, it was something that it would have been hard for me to say no to,” Tyson said. “I started my coaching career at Bethune-Cookman and I absolutely fell in love with historically black schools during my time there. It was like a different world for me coming from Nebraska when I took that job. So that year, after I left Bethune, I swore to myself that when I became a head coach I wanted to be at a historically black school. And I didn't think, I'm so lucky and I'm blessed it ended up being the mecca of the HBCU's.”
Instead of the softball tradition of many schools in power conferences, Tyson is selling the experience of attending an HBCU like Howard, which she believes is different than anywhere else.
“I feel like this is an amazing University and it's an easy sell, really. At the end of the day it's about getting it out there and I felt like I had the ability to get this university's name out there,” Tyson said. “And I feel like when families and kids learn about it and they see what we're trying to build, I don't think that that's a hard sell. And I feel passionate about being at Howard. The name in itself speaks for itself and I feel like we can definitely make this a contender for sure.”
Being a contender may be some ways off for the Bison. Before they can start challenging the Seminoles, Sooners and Gators for national supremacy, they have to get back to over .500.
“This is a seven-inning game. So what I taught, what we've kind of been focusing on is we got to start winning more innings,” Tyson said. “And the first weekend we were about three innings away. We were blowing three innings. This past weekend we were an inning. Granted, it was a big inning, but we were an inning away from playing seven innings of good softball. And if you're consistently playing seven innings of good softball, you can be in any ballgame.”
Yet, in the four months Tyson and her staff (assistant coaches Jazmyn Jackson and Aleshia Ocasio) have been at Howard, she started to see signs they have had an effect off the field as well.
“I'm already starting to see it. I remember when me and Jazmyn first went out recruiting, the amount of people that were talking about Howard,” Tyson said. “And know that they wouldn't have otherwise probably been doing it I think. It's about using my platform, using my assistant coach's platform to really get that name out there. And success for me is going to be seeing those things. Like seeing kids running around with Howard softball t-shirts. And being proud to do that. And people knowing exactly what it is.”