Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Veteran softball coach pockets 500th win

Brooke Capello
Softball Coach Phil McElroy nabbed his 500th career victory as the Lions beat UMass Boston 5-1, April 9.

When Head Softball Coach Phil McElroy started his tenure in 2001, he’d commute from his home in Arlington early on game days to rake the fields in Boston Common just for unwanted visitors to ruin it by the first pitch.

From the inception of Rotch Field as an Emerson athletics facility in 2005 to the two Greater Northeast Atheltic Conference titles the Lions claimed in 2007 to 2009, McElroy’s 23 seasons have continued to deliver.

On April 9, McElroy encapsulated another milestone by capturing his 500th collegiate victory after sweeping UMass Boston (7-3 and 5-1)—and he isn’t done yet.

McElroy was surrounded by softball from a young age with his two sisters playing the sport and his father coaching. It was with his father he’d get his start at the youth level where he discovered a knack for it and became hooked. 

“When I first started in the early 1990s there wasn’t a whole lot of softball coaching,” McElroy said. “I thought there was an opportunity for me and I just fell in love with it.”

It wasn’t just his father that he’d coach with. In 1997, McElroy joined his younger sister Jill McElroy as an assistant at Reading Memorial High School where they won the 2001 Division I State Title in their final year on staff together.

“When I got the job at Reading it was kind of just a no-brainer to involve him,” Jill McElroy said over the phone. “It was always sort of family-driven and winning the state title helped propel him to move to better things.”

Phil began his time as the full-time head coach (previously an assistant) at Emerson in 2001 concurrently with the McElroy success at Reading. Within the first six seasons at the helm for the Lions, the team was competitive garnering a 141-73 record per the GNAC’s all-time standings.

It wasn’t until 2007 that all the hard work would pay off as the Lions made a run for the conference title, dethroning the five-time defending champions Western New England University, 13-7.  

Four-year catcher Jen Boyden ‘07 said winning the state title was unexpected. 

“I think we had worked up towards that because the year prior we fizzled out at the end of the season,” Boyden said. “It was funny because Phil anticipated it was gonna be the next year to challenge for the conference so it was a bit of a surprise that we were able to pull it off.”

Upon taking home the gold, the newly crowned GNAC Champions walked among their peers at the Athletic Department banquet with new hardware.

“We weren’t expected to win and really none of the teams ever made it to the championship game back then,” Phil McElroy said. “We actually had our banquet on the day that we won. So we got off the bus and walked into the athletic banquet with the trophy in our uniforms because nobody expected we’d win.”

The win produced the first NCAA playoff berth in Emerson Athletics history and in 2009 the Lions claimed the GNAC title once more.

The Lions continued to perform well in the GNAC, but in 2014 all Emerson Athletics aside from men’s volleyball moved to the NEWMAC which brought new competition to the Purple & Gold.

“The biggest change in our program was the move to the new conference,” Phil McElroy said. “It’s been challenging in different ways. We were more suited for the GNAC because the other programs shared the same type of obstacles as we did … [The NEWMAC schools] are not sharing a softball field with two lacrosse teams and two soccer teams.”

Facilities have been a challenge in the past, but Phil McElroy was quick to note how the conditions at Rotch Field have continued to improve and the large upgrade it was then having to stop the game because of errant pedestrians in the Boston Common.

In 2016, Phil McElroy hit his last big milestone with a 5-1 win against Wellesley for his 400th collegiate win. Multi-season captain Jill Gearin ‘18 was on the bench that day as a first year but was taken back by the support her new coach received.

“I didn’t really know Phil that well and as a freshman, you don’t understand the dynamic,” Gearin said. “You’re just trying not to mess up, but I remember seeing the upperclassmen being very excited to get Phil that 400-win ball, and watching them care that much was the first time I realized how important he is in our lives.”

On April 9 the same passion would be reciprocated for the veteran coach as his players rallied through both games to get that softball.

“It was a really neat game and it was nice to see the team get so excited to win for him,” Jill McElroy, who was in attendance, said.

Winning 500 games is no small feat, and Boyden, who returned to Emerson as an assistant coach, said it’s been his ability to adapt that has aided his success.

 “Coaching has really changed since I was playing,” she said. “That’s probably the biggest reason he’s gotten to this point. Generations of athletes just at Emerson College have had very different needs year in and year out and he’s able to adjust.”

It’s an ongoing joke between alumni that their believed to be perfectionists and self-admitted perfectionist Phil McElroy has gotten softer since the GNAC era. 

“I heard he’s getting softer every year and even in my playing days, former athletes told us he was soft on us,” Gearin said. “He expects a lot out of his athletes, but not more than what you could give him.” 

Boyden echoed the notion saying players get away with things that he would not have tolerated back in the 2000s. The culprit isn’t just the changing of the times but the start of a family.

“What changed is I got a kid and I think everything softens after that,” Phil McElroy said. “I also recognize that we live in a world where mental health is so much more acknowledged.”

Although the parenting world might be making its impact on the veteran coach, he plans to finish out this year’s campaign and return next season stating he’s on a year-to-year basis. 

When discussing the most special moments over his tenure, he reflected on all the players who have stepped on the field, Commons or Rotch. 

“I think all the senior days have been special,” he said about his favorite moments. “When I got the 500th win, I got tons of text messages and emails from former players. It really is just all those players and the great relationships on and off the field.”

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About the Contributor
Tyler Foy
Tyler Foy, Sports Editor
Tyler Foy is a second-year journalism student from South Florida. He currently serves as The Beacon's Sports Editor. He spends his free time following sports, jamming out to his favorite tunes, and hosting couch-warming parties.

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