By Shaley Howard, PQ Monthly
Sherri Murrell, like many Portland State University coaches before her, agreed in 2009 to include a portrait of her family in PSU’s women’s basketball annual media guide. The photo of Sherri, her partner Rena, and their twins, Halle and Rylan, served as Sherri’s public coming out. To this day, she is still the only out lesbian coach in the Division 1 NCAA.
Now in her sixth year as head coach for the PSU women’s basketball team, Sherri has not only raised the bar — or, more appropriately, the rim — in the game of basketball, with one of the most successful Division 1 NCAA five-year records at PSU, she also exemplifies to her players and community what it means to live life with integrity, embrace diversity, and work hard to achieve goals.
A basketball player most of her life and coach for the last 20 years, Sherri’s been no stranger to homophobia in sports.
“I think growing up in sports and seeing firsthand the suppression of not being accepted if you’re gay was very hard to deal with,” she says. “There were not a lot of people you could identify with or talk to about it. The players and coaches who were gay were hiding deep in the closet. I grew up with believing that’s how it is in this culture. When I broke away from that, it was one of the best things I could have ever done in my life.”
Through merely living her life openly and honestly, Sherri has become a change agent and role model for the gay and straight community. She’s opened the door and empowered others to come out or speak out against homophobia.
“People are talking about the subject of homophobia in the sports arena, which is a good thing,” Sherri says of the significant changes she’s observed in the last five years. “I believe the more straight allies that come forth and support ways to eliminate homophobia in sports, the more you will see athletes and coaches coming out. Eventually this will not be a big deal anymore.”
Indeed, Sherri’s coming out illuminated that, overall, the younger generation seems more open and accepting of people’s sexual orientation and gender identity.
“To be honest, kids don’t really care about this issue,” she says. “They just want to know if you’re a good person and you can coach.”
Clearly, Sherri can coach. In 2012, she was named Big Sky Conference coach of the year, led the Vikings to a Big Sky Conference Title, and received PSU women’s basketball’s first ever invitation to an NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
She has high expectations for her current lineup, as well. “I really like our team this year,” Sherri says. “We have a good group of young ladies with talented players in each position. I believe if we can stay healthy, we could do another run for the championship and dance, baby, dance!”
Sherri, who recently joined the board of directors of the Equity Foundation and plans to travel to rural Oregon to speak on behalf of the Safe Schools initiative, is not only a role model for the queer community, but also someone who clearly prides herself on teaching her players values such as honesty, integrity, personal responsibility, and working together — and she could use some community support to back up her efforts.
“We have increased attendance greatly and our financial support through boosters has been great,” Sherri says. “However, there are so many people in Portland who haven’t yet attended a game. If you have a daughter, if you play sports, if you’re an advocate for women’s athletics, etc., then I can’t see why you wouldn’t come out and support these ladies. It’s fun and exciting basketball.”
See Sherri Murrell and her players in action by buying tickets to an upcoming PSU women’s basketball game at www.goviks.com.