Vanderbilt Club Baseball pitcher, Next Steps student makes history with approval to play college club sports

Star pitcher JR Harrison becomes first person with an intellectual disability to make a college club team, per Next Steps at VU

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JR Harrison (’22) pictured with his Club Baseball team in a weekend series against Florida State in April 2019. Screenshot from @VUclubbaseball on Twitter. (Hustler Staff/Eva Pace)

Sam Blum, Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect that Harrison is the first student with an intellectual disability to make a club team in the country, according to @nextstepsambassadores. Previously, the article stated that Harrison was the first student with a disability to make a club team in the country.

 

The Next Steps program and junior JR Harrison’s teammates rallied behind a petition for change last year, and a 5-2 vote by the National Club Baseball Association has now given Vandy a pitching boost: Harrison is finally eligible to play.

When he was a first-year, Harrison shone with potential and brought energy to the mound on Vanderbilt’s Club Baseball team. Last fall, The Hustler reported that a policy laid out by the National Federation of Collegiate Club Sports Leagues (CollClubSports), the body that oversees club sports at schools across the nation, deemed him ineligible to play. 

Following in the footsteps of his uncle who pitched for Vanderbilt’s NCAA College Baseball team, Harrison started playing baseball when he was just eight years old. He has been competing with a passion for the game ever since. 

“I played baseball all my life: tee ball, kid pitch, high school ball, travel ball and now club baseball. I’m a competitor at heart. I’m now the first kid with a disability to make a club team,” Harrison said.

His love for baseball radiates across the field. Last week, teammates weighed in on Harrison’s impact on the team. 

“JR is instrumental to our success. He brings what we call ‘competitive fire’ or ‘winners intangibles’ when we practice and when we play,” Co-President of Club Baseball and teammate of two seasons Matt Nelson said. 

Coaches and teammates have always felt like family to Harrison and bring out the best of him both on and off the field. The team is eager to start competing again after COVID-19 shut down the season last April. Without official, organized practices, Harrison and his teammates did not skip a beat. They have been working hard this offseason and continue with weekly, socially distant catches across the street at Centennial Park.

“My disability doesn’t define me or the sport I play. I came to Vanderbilt to play Vandy Club Baseball, to carry on the Vandy baseball legacy in my family, and I made the team because of my talent, skill and passion for the game,” Harrison said. 

He hopes that this August’s historic change in policy will help others in programs like Next Steps follow their passions and compete in all club sports. It remains unclear when the Club Baseball team will be able to compete again in 2021, but when they do have the opportunity to return to the field, Harrison promises to be ready. 

“My energy is unmatched. I have been dominant on the mound. We plan to have scrimmages next semester and get back at the grind when everybody returns from break,” he said. “This team we got is a special group of guys, and I miss competing with my boys.”