Aug. 16 is going to be a busy day for Portland State softball coach Teri Mariani.
First of all, it’s her birthday, a time of the year when she usually hides out in an undisclosed location and waits for the excitement to pass. Then Morgan Seibert, her star pitcher, graduates in the afternoon. And to top it all off, that evening she will be inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.
“There is no higher honor,” she says. Mariani was elected her first time on the ballot. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
As Mariani gets ready for a scouting trip to the ASA Gold Nationals in Salem, she almost sounds amazed that she is still in softball after 27 years as a coach. “I love the game,” she says, “but it’s a young person’s job, recruiting and scouting. It’s a cutthroat game.”
Mariani grew up in Portland, attended St. Mary’s Academy and spent her youth playing softball. At 13, she played second base and shortstop with the Erv Lind Florist amateur team that had won the national championship the year before. She knows the team helped her grow. “They taught me so much. We played at a time when there were real female role models,” she says. The Vikings’ home field is named in Erv Lind’s honor.
Mariani joined the Vikings after high school and played three sports, captaining the basketball team to the national tournament and taking the volleyball team to the tournament three times, including a couple of top-10 finishes.
But softball was her love, something that really got her competitive juices flowing. In fact, she thought the competitiveness of playing in the field was out of her system, but when she helped take her Masters softball team to a silver medal in 1998, the last time the Games were in Portland, she felt the carnal urge to win again. “Boy, was that fun,” she laughs. She’s tossing around the idea of playing again when the games come back to Portland in a few years. Even on the other side of 50, she says her reflexes are still solid.
Mariani graduated from PSU in 1976 and was hired as head coach that summer. In her first few years, she was coaching a team made up of players she had previously played alongside. They cemented her drive to coach.
“Those early teams taught me so much. It was a challenge, because I was so close in age to them,” says Mariani. “Many of them are still my best friends.”
Mariani played professional softball in the summers of 1976 through 1979, and the schedule wouldn’t interfere with her coaching duties too much. She would still return to Portland in the fall, to her home. Even now she lives just four houses away from the house where she grew up, where her father still lives.
“I think it’s the Italian in me,” is how she explains it – meaning the close-knit family values, the kinfolk always there and looking out for everybody. Her teams take that same mentality and become families themselves. She recruits semi-locally because, “I want parents to be able to come to the games and support their kids. I want them to stay involved.” And they do. Parents cover the bleachers at Viking games.
Mariani has seen women’s athletics grow since Title IX was passed to balance the athletic scales in 1973. “It’s gone from glorified intramurals to a very competitive college program,” she says. “It’s always been hard at Portland State. We’ve had to do more with less, but if you don’t dwell on the negatives, then you’re OK.” The team’s practice facilities have always been off-campus. “We practiced on church blacktop,” says Mariani. “But you can dwell on the negatives, or you can say, ‘Hey! Let’s go!'”
Now, Mariani says she has a much better appreciation for the good things. The closest her teams got to a national championship was in 1991. The Vikings were ranked No. 1 for most of the year and went to the finals. They won their first game, but lost a 17-inning game after that, and ended up losing the tournament. “We had the game won,” says Mariani. “Two outs, bottom of the seventh, and they had a runner on third. Ball got past my catcher. We were right there, but we caught some bad breaks.” It is her lack of championships that has Mariani amazed that she was elected to be enshrined.
“It means so much to me to have that validation, without the national championships. We’ve accomplished great things with little resources,” she says.
Mariani is proud of her legacy, one that has PSU alumni coaching at high schools and colleges across the West, and she hopes she has helped softball grow. She is happy Portland State hired her in the first place. “If they didn’t believe in me 28 years ago …” she says. “They took a chance on a young kid.” Already a record-holder at PSU, Mariani will pass Jack Dunn as the Vikings all-time leader in coaching wins.
Mariani knows it won’t last forever, though. Even now she is telling recruits she might not be with them their entire college careers. She has compiled lists of possible coaching replacements, and she says she has made some calls, but she is not ready to let it go yet. “I’ve been telling them that for a few years,” she says. “But I’m not ready to go yet.”
So, as Mariani heads to Salem to scout girls who are still one-to-three years away, she wonders at the honor of being voted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. Mariani was already the youngest person voted into the Portland Softball Hall of Fame, and her athletic accolades earned her a spot in PSU’s Hall of Fame in 1999, but this is a career-defining award, something that is unfortunately posthumously received much of the time.
“There’s no higher honor,” says Mariani. “I’m glad I’m alive to get it.”