Softball pioneer Harris leaves behind big legacy

·4 min read

Oct. 10—FRANKFORT — Mandy (Kittleson) Magno recalls coach Su Harris hiding her from interviews.

The Detroit Free Press sent a reporter to Frankfort for a story on the Panthers' dominating pitching staff, and the reporter hung around school and practice for days.

"I've always been horrible at interviews," said Magno, a Panthers pitcher from 1990-94. "She wanted everyone to get their due."

So Harris hid Magno in the bathroom during practices so the reporter had to interview other players in addition to the star pitcher.

Suzanne "Su" Harris, who started the softball program at Frankfort, passed away Oct. 1 at her home in Traverse City at age 83.

"Coach Harris meant a great deal to me," said former Frankfort star pitcher Christy Szerlong Bishop, who played on the 1990 Class D state championship team Harris coached. "We shared a love for softball, and she was like a second mom. Harris was my hero."

Harris was born in 1938 in Toledo, Ohio, and graduated from Bowling Green State University in 1960.

She taught junior and senior high school art and English in Piqua, Ohio, and elementary art in Fairborn, Ohio, before moving to Frankfort in 1971.

She served as editor of the Benzie County Record Patriot until 1975, when she began teaching at Frankfort-Elberta Area Schools and later started up the softball program from scratch in 1979.

"She took that sport and made it a program," current Frankfort softball coach Mike Thompson said. "She really raised the bar to compete at the state level every single year."

Harris led the Panthers to a state championship in 1990, a state runner-up finish the following season and 18 consecutive district titles. Her Panther teams won 14 conference crowns.

"She was a perfectionist," said her son, Brad Garmhausen. "She wanted them to do the best they could do. She set high expectations but knew everyone was different."

Harris was named Regional Coach of the Year five years in a row from 1987-1991, as well as 1994. She recorded a 476-131 career record in softball and was inducted in the inaugural class of the Michigan High School Softball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1994. Thompson joined her in the Hall of Fame in 2016.

"She's a legend," Thompson said. "Her legacy is so strong. She loved the kids so much and got so much out of them."

Thompson said Harris developed a program that made Frankfort's success from year to year not dependent upon talent. Instead, Garmhausen said, she molded students into players, finding middle school athletes and making them team managers so she could work with them on pitching mechanics after practice.

Harris, Linda Pierce and Thompson are the only three head softball coaches in Frankfort Panther history. Pierce took over the program from 2000-03, when Thompson moved over from an assistant baseball coaching position under Mike Zimmerman to take over softball.

"Coach Harris taught us to believe in ourselves and prepared us to be winners," Szerlong Bishop said. "She expected our best effort every minute of every practice and every game. Harris was a tough, passionate, intense, fireball of a coach."

Harris also served as advisor of the award-winning Frankfort yearbook, the Sands, and is credited with taking Frankfort's art program to another level.

She also coached Frankfort's girls junior varsity basketball team and cheerleading for seven years. Harris retired from teaching in 1999.

"What I remember most is her dedication to the game and her players," said Magno, who won the very first Miss Softball award in 1994, the only area player to ever win the honor. "She was feisty and just all around caring."

"She was tough on players and wanted them to be successful, but she was also goofy and feisty," Magno continued. "She was not only the coach, but also a really good friend."

She is survived by her son, Brad Garmhausen, of Traverse City; two grandchildren, Gavin and Alexis Garmhausen, of Traverse City; and her sister, Patricia Sneider of Helena, Ohio.

In lieu of a memorial service, Harris' family will conduct a celebration of her life in Frankfort in the summer of 2022. Memorials can be made as donations to the Frankfort-Elberta High School Athletic Department.

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