After leading Griffin Athletics for five years, Spartanburg Day School Athletic Director Rita Harrell has announced her plan to retire at the end of the 2017-18 school year.
Harrell has nearly 20 years of experience in the athletics field. Since joining SDS in 2012, Harrell has led the program through 18 SCISA state championships, two SCISA AA Presidents Cups and six SCISA region championships. Prior to her time with the Griffins, Harrell worked as athletic director at Shannon Forest Christian School in Greenville, S.C.
"When I came (to SDS), I wanted to help build a great program. All the pieces were already here, and I wanted to help put it together by establishing a philosophy for our athletics program, hiring great coaches and putting our student-athletes in a position to achieve success," Harrell said. "I feel good knowing that I'm leaving this program in a better place than where I found it and in the capable hands of a dedicated staff. I can't wait to see what's still in store for the Griffins."
Harrell got her start in athletics while a student at Pennsylvania's Slippery Rock University. She played on the school's basketball team and graduated with a degree in health, physical education and recreation. After graduation, she was invited to play internationally, and in 1975, was asked to the Olympic trials for the first-ever women's basketball Olympic team. Harrell also played on four world championship USSSA softball teams and, in 1976, was selected for the All World Team. She was inducted into the Western Pennsylvania Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007 and the Slippery Rock University Hall of Fame in 2008.
"Athletics has been a part of my life since I was five years old," she said. "My competitive nature has always driven me to succeed in all of my life endeavors. The disciplines that come with being involved in athletics and successfully dealing with teamwork has taught me life skills that cannot be taught by any other means."
Harrell said she's proud of the state championships, the broken records and the accomplished athletes, but she has taken the most pleasure from watching individual student-athletes achieve personal bests – whether the three-sport athlete or the student participating on a team for the first time.
"It's always been about what students become once they get through the program," she said. "Winning is great, but I'm more interested in where my kids are after they leave our program. What did they learn from the discipline of athletics, from the training, from the struggles? What did all of that teach them to become for the rest of their lives?"
Head of School Rachel Deems said Harrell is leaving an unforgettable mark on Griffin Athletics, and SDS as a whole.
"Rita Harrell's hard work and dedication to Griffin athletics have elevated our program to an unprecedented level of success, all while keeping the mission of our school and the well-being of our athletes at the heart of every decision," Deems said. "Our student-athletes and coaches have all benefitted tremendously from her leadership and support. We appreciate her years of service and her work to prepare our athletic program for its next leader. We wish her the very best in retirement."
In retirement, Harrell said she is looking forward to spending more time with her husband, Jim, and their daughter, Katie, on their 150-acre farm. She hopes to travel and devote more time to volunteering with their therapy dog, Harley.