With Coaching In Her Blood, Tori Tyson Writes Her Own Story
Tori Tyson doesn’t do anything half-heartedly. In a month dedicated to women’s history, Tyson has already broken multiple barriers, and she doesn’t show signs of stopping.
On March 1, she was named the head coach of the Texas Smoke, the newly-minted Women’s Professional Fastpitch (WPF) franchise. As the current head softball coach at Howard University, Tyson has cemented herself as the first coach of a professional softball team to come from a historically Black college or university (HBCU). Less than a week later on March 7, Tyson once again led the Bison to new frontiers as the first HBCU team to play a scheduled game against then–No. 2 UCLA on the Bruins’ home field at Easton Stadium.
The path that led her to this point in her career started long ago, tracing back to her childhood. Her father, Marty Tyson, is a widely respected travel softball coach, having founded the Corona Angels organization in southern California in 1998. Tyson and all three of her sisters—Dena, Domonique and Dawna—competed for the Angels, which ultimately springboarded them into their next moves.
The club organization has achieved consistent success on the national stage across all age groups. At the inaugural Alliance Fastpitch championship series in 2021, the 10U and 14U teams took home national titles, while the 16U squad took second and the 12U and 18U squads landed in the top three. Over the years, the Angels also developed some of the top individual players in the game today, including some of UCLA’s best, like Olympian and two-time National Player of the Year Rachel Garcia and current All-American ace Megan Faraimo.
It was incredibly fitting, then, that Marty threw out the first pitch when Howard and UCLA faced each other in Westwood on March 7. His nine-year-old granddaughter, Skylar, who mom Tori says thinks of herself as the unofficial associate head coach of the Bison, was on the field with him and grandma Donna to experience the full-circle moment.
“I was on the road with him for most of my life. He was my travel ball dad. But I watched how he handled people, just how he carried himself, and how he created a culture that was ours,” Tyson said on the Bleav in Softball podcast. “When I became a head coach, that was just so naturally in me to want to lead that way.”
This energy has translated into results on the field for Howard. In Tyson’s fourth season in 2022, the Bison boasted a program-best 31 wins, a MEAC Tournament championship for the first time since 2007 and an NCAA Tournament appearance. For context, the season before Tyson took the job in 2018, Howard went just 8-37 overall and 6-12 in conference play.
Despite having limited resources, Tyson is passionate about gaining exposure for her program, and also for all HBCU student-athletes.
“Representing HBCUs on the highest level was always the goal,” said Tyson, who played college softball at Nebraska.
And when it comes to balancing that pressure on top of trying to win softball games, she embraces the challenge.
“I love that responsibility,” she said without hesitation. “It comes with a lot, but it never feels like a burden. It always feels like an opportunity.”
That conviction will be valuable as she shapes the WPF’s Texas Smoke. As the fourth franchise in the league's short history and the second-ever professional team in Austin, Tyson signing on also means three out of the four WPF head coaches are now women. Heading into the league’s second season and first full schedule, it’s another opportunity to build something from the ground up.
And it won’t be her first time coaching in the pros. She previously served as an assistant coach for the Chicago Bandits of the now-defunct National Pro Fastpitch league.
Tyson’s north star continues to be the duty she feels to elevate the people around her to new heights. But it’s not just about getting into the room where it happens, it’s about staying there.
“When I get in there, I can’t settle and be content,” Tyson said. “I then have to be able to reach my hand back and keep that door open, keep a crack open for the next one…for the athletes, for the next coaches, for everybody.”
While she’s more than happy to be the one to break a barrier, her real goal is to be the first of many.
“It is my name right now, and it’s going to be someone else’s name (soon),” Tyson said, “and I hope that they can follow and do it in their way.”