She was a three-time All-American at Central State.
She was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2011.
She was named Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference coach of the year at the end of last season and a few months later in Washington, D.C. was honored as the HBCU Digest female coach of the year. She was also named CSU’s coach of the year.
It never should have ended like this for Sheba Harris and CSU.
Over the past 30 years no sports program at Central State has had such continual success and graduated a higher percentage of its athletes than the Lady Marauders’ basketball program.
And after coming out of East Cleveland and John F. Kennedy High School, Harris was an integral part of all that. She started four years and scored over 1,000 points for heralded CSU coach Theresa Check, who took a record 13 straight teams to the NAIA national tournament.
After graduating and spending a few months at an engineering firm in Chicago, Harris missed basketball and CSU and returned to the school to be an assistant to Pat Tramble, who had taken over the program.
In 2009 Harris became head coach and last season was her best. The team went 20-8 and won the Western Division of the SIAC. It was the first title any CSU sports team had won since the school moved up to NCAA Division II a few years ago.
Yet, Harris said she had increasingly felt that she and women’s sports in general at the school were not getting the kind of consideration they deserved.
She said she was paid some $11,000 less than the men’s basketball coach and $20,000 less than the football coach. She said she had never gotten a raise in the nine years she’s been a head coach while male coaches had.
Men’s basketball is in the midst of its fourth straight losing season and football — which has won two games over the past two seasons — has had one winning campaign in the 13 years since the sport was reinstated after an eight-year disbandment.
“After last season I asked for a pay raise,” Harris said. “I felt I was being treated unfairly as far as my male counterparts when it came to salary and how successful our program has been.
“Last year our program brought the first championship to the school (since becoming D-II). We had the highest GPA (3.0) and the highest graduation rate, over 90 percent.”
She said she asked CSU athletics director Jahan Culbreath twice over the summer about a raise but was told there was no money for that now.
“We haven’t gotten raises at this institution,” Culbreath said Thursday.
Asked specifically about men’s basketball coach Joseph Price and football coach Cedric Pearl, he said, “No, they have not gotten any raise.”
Cared for mom
Over the summer Harris said she asked for a leave of absence to care for her ailing mother.
“My mom has suffered some strokes in the past and has trouble with her balance,” Harris said. “When she fell and broke her leg, I had to take care of her.”
She said she moved her mother into her Greene Country home for a while, then brought her back to Cleveland in late August, where her primary doctors were, and cared for her up there.
“I asked for August off and then extended it for September and October,” Harris said.
Although she said she was in constant contact with her staff and players and Culbreath, the day-to-day operations of the team where left to assistant coaches LaTonya McDole and Lewis Shine. Although still well coached, some Marauder players felt confusion and a sense of abandonment.
One person close to the program said during this season the CSU players often asked: “When is Coach Sheba coming back?”
But they never got a definitive answer.
Culbreath said he attributed Harris’ continued absence to the need to care for her mother: “That’s what I knew it as.”
Harris said she wanted to come back, but she wanted a raise.
Finally in late January she met with Culbreath. At the time of the meeting, the Lady Marauders — minus not only their head coach, but having lost their leading scorer, Hamilton High product Takyra Gilbert, to an ankle injury and surgery in mid-December — were 15-4.
A day before the meeting, Harris said: “I hope it works out. I want to keep coaching. I love coaching. We had a successful year last year and I thought we were going in the right direction, but I’m just trying to get paid.”
No deal could be worked out and Harris — whose CSU record was 124-108 — officially resigned as coach Jan. 31.
McDole was named interim head coach.
“I don’t want to discuss personnel issues,” Culbreath said. “But we wish Sheba the absolute best. She was phenomenal as a coach here.
“And now we’re looking forward to LaTonya and her new endeavors. She’s a good coach. As my great grandmother would say, ‘She’s on the ball.’ ”
Team still winning
After starring at Trotwood-Madison High, McDole went to the University of Kentucky and had a stellar career: 1,180 points, 711 rebounds, 217 steals and 201 assists.
She played a year of pro ball in Portugal, where she averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds and later officiated AAU games in the Miami Valley for a dozen years.
When Harris became the CSU head coach in 2009, McDole became one of her assistants.
“My assistants were tremendous through this,” Harris said. “They were 100 percent supportive of me and did everything to help me as much as possible. I wish them well.”
Going onto the final two games of the regular season — Saturday at Tuskegee and Monday at Miles — the Lady Marauders are 19-5.
Everyone involved in this saga agrees the real stars in this tough CSU season have been the players, who galvanized after losing a respected coach and a top player.
The Marauders, who have the best overall record in the 13-team SIAC, are led by senior guard Sierra Farley, who averages 14.4 points along with 4.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.4 steals. Point guard Jaeda Davis averages 13.1 points and 5-foot-11 junior Mustafa Notter is averaging 6.4 rebounds.
Nick Novy, CSU’s sports information director, said when administrators met with the team last Friday to inform them that McDole would replace Harris for the rest of the season, they commended the players for the way they hung together this season:
“They lost the coach who had recruited them and their leading scorer, but they kept winning.”
Culbreath agreed: “They’re really having a good year and that says a lot about them.”
But then at Central State, when it comes to women’s basketball, that’s always the case.