CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Illinois head coach Tyra Perry is pioneer for college softball. Only recently did Perry find out she was the first black signee for the LSU softball program. But as she reflects on her playing career, it was sometimes an experience that left her feeling isolated.

“There were very few scenarios where I got to just play softball,” says Perry. “I always had to be aware of what I said, what I was doing, how was I dressed, and again you had to do it alone, there was no one else there in the room that had the same experiences.”

Perry is now the Big Ten’s only black head softball coach. She admits she’s proud to have that title, but also wants more representation. Across Division I softball, close to 90% of head coaches are white. To help bring more women of color into head coaching roles, Perry has been organizing a series of zoom calls with them.

“We talk a lot of professional development,” says Perry. “So when Power Five [head coaching] jobs open up, they will have the skills that they need to become a viable candidate.”

Perry says equality isn’t just needed in college sports. In light of the ongoing protests demanding justice for George Floyd and others, Perry wants to see an end to racism, and social injustice. It starts with having those conversations with her team.

“I wouldn’t be doing my job in my opinion if we’re not talking about current events. ” says Perry. “Even if you want to say ‘well then it’s not a race thing,’ well, then it’s a human thing, and that shouldn’t happen to any human. It’s refreshing, and amazing to see, that a lot of people are tired of it, they think it’s wrong, and they’re ready to fight to do whatever they need to do to make things different.”

However, for Perry and the athletes of color on her team, the weight of these issues is even more pressing.

“We have five young women of color on our team currently, and I reached out to each one of them individually when the George Floyd tragedy happened,” says Perry. “We don’t get to not talk about what happened to George Floyd. It affects our lives, in every single way, and in your case, you can talk about it later, or you can not talk about it at all, and that’s the difference.”