Tara Strickland, a senior at Truman High School, became the school’s – to the best of activities director Eric Holm and softball head coach Steve Broughton’s knowledge – first-ever African-American to play softball at the varsity level when she lined up in center field for the Patriots three years ago as a sophomore.

As Black History Month comes to a close, an Independence family has a little history of their own that should be noted.

Tara Strickland, a senior at Truman High School, became the school’s – to the best of activities director Eric Holm and softball head coach Steve Broughton’s knowledge – first-ever African-American to play softball at the varsity level when she lined up in center field for the Patriots three years ago as a sophomore.

“I feel like I’ve broken a color barrier,” Strickland said Friday. “It lets other (young African-American girls) know that they can do it too. I feel like they can go another outlet instead of what they are expected to do by other people.”

What others expect, Debbie Strickland – Tara’s mother – said, is young black girls playing only sports such as basketball or track. Softball, Debbie Strickland said, is another avenue for them to possibly try.

“This is a sport that all races can play,” Debbie Strickland said. “African-Americans now know we don’t have to just play basketball or track. You can do other sports.

“If you want to play softball, then you go out there and do it if that’s an appropriate sport for you. I’m really, really glad (Tara) was able to do that.”

Warren Strickland Jr., head softball coach at Raytown High School, said he was proud of his younger sister. A 2002 graduate of Rockhurst University, Strickland Jr. said he broke a bit of a color barrier as well in his baseball playing days at the school.

“It makes me feel real good because I talked to her about the same thing because I was the first black to play baseball at Rockhurst University,” he said. “Back in 1998. I told her in these days and times – and even in mine – it’s not that big of a deal, but you still are the first.

“You’re going to always be talked about, you’re always going to be in the book as that. Make sure you have a good head in school and on the field, but more importantly be proud of it.”

Warren Strickland Sr. said he was proud to watch Tara compete against the Warren Jr.’s team this past fall, his first year as varsity coach for the Blue Jays.

“I was a nice family-feud type deal,” Strickland Sr. said. “Of course, I had to be on (Tara’s) side, but it was fun.”

Switched to shortstop this past fall, Tara Strickland said she hopes to play softball at the next level. Already accepted into Rockhurst University, Strickland plans to major in nursing and walk on the school’s softball team.

Broughton, a 21-year head coach at Truman, said he believes Strickland has the ability and the intangibles to play college softball.

“She started for us for three years and she was always a good player, a good leader,” Broughton said. “I know last year, we switched her from center field to shortstop, which is a real difficult switch.

“I was real proud of her for doing that without complaint. She’s just a very good team player, very positive with her teammates. I enjoyed coaching her.”

Regardless of race, Strickland said she enjoyed every moment of her high school softball career.

“It was a really good experience,” Strickland said. “I played with a lot of people that I enjoyed playing with. They were very helpful and I helped other people. I felt like I gave a lot of insight to a lot of issues that came up.”