Rare disorder takes life of former Gopher coach

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“I know she enjoyed her time there in Minnesota,” Cheryl Harrison said of her sister Tori Harrison, who passed away May 15 at age 54 after a long illness.

Harrison joined LaRue Fields as the Gophers’ first Black female coaches for three seasons (1987-90). The Baltimore native was a high school All American in the 1980s and finished second among the area’s all-time scorers, averaging nearly 20 points and 11 rebounds a game. She also starred at Louisiana Tech where she was a three-time MVP, and played in two Final Fours. Her team was the 1987 national runners-up.

Minnesota was among several coaching stops after Harrison’s college playing career ended and she earned her business administration degree. She and Fields were the first coaches we covered.

Her then-young daughter Lauren also “talked fondly of her time in Minnesota,” Tori’s sister Cheryl Harrison, a University of Maryland associate athletic director, told the MSR. “She talked like she was born and raised there. She used to brag to her friends about how she had lived in Minneapolis.”

After she left the Gophers, Tori became one of the nation’s youngest Division I head coaches at Coppin State in 1992 and coached there five seasons, where she was named coach of the year in her first season. Harrison also did assistant coaching stints at Wake Forest, Clemson, Alabama and George Washington as well as USA Basketball. She concluded her career as head coach at Rider (2004-07) before resigning for health reasons.

Her work ethic suited her perfectly for coaching, continued Cheryl. “I don’t remember now if it was that she didn’t know what else she could do, or it was that this was what she wanted to do. Basketball always was a huge part of our family. Basketball had been in her life for so long.”

“She worked hard and didn’t mind working hard. She enjoyed interacting with the players. She also loved the strategy of game planning,” said her sister. “She definitely was a competitive person.”

Harrison was diagnosed in 1997 with Machado-Joseph Disease, a rare genetic disorder that attacks the central nervous system. Both her father and brother had the same disorder, and both later died from it as well.

Tori had used a wheelchair for the past 13 years. “Tori was a kind-hearted person, always looking to see how she could help others, even as she had been battling this disease for the last 13 years,” said Cheryl. “Even with her physical challenges, she saw how she could be helpful to others.

“She didn’t let her physical challenges keep her from participating fully in our family …continuing to travel to family gatherings that we held regularly. She was fully present and fully involved.

“We are a very close-knit family. She loved her family and we loved her. She lived a full life.” Tori Harrison is survived by her mother, her sister and her daughter, who is now a 31 and an attorney in Maryland.

Black NBA reporter passes

Our condolences also to the family of Marty McNeal, who died at age 64 May 21 after battling leukemia. He started at the Sacramento Bee in 1990 and became the paper’s Sacramento Kings beat writer in 1992 through 2005, then becoming a columnist. He was a pioneer Black NBA writer, and we always chatted whenever he was in town.

“Marty was a savvy, beloved, wise-cracking reporter, a mentor to many and a friend to all who got to know him,” tweeted NABJ Sports Task Force last week.

About Charles Hallman

Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at challman@spokesman-recorder.com

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