From Student-Athlete to Educator
Teresa Turner did not know what kind of impact she was making when she got to the University of Oklahoma in 1978 as a freshman on the women's basketball team.
But she does now.
And it really has little to do with basketball. Turner was one of the first two females to earn an athletics scholarship at OU or breaking down any barriers associated with being an African-American.
It has everything to do with what she does today.
Turner began her post-collegiate career working in OU's College of Arts and Sciences before transitioning to the Athletics Department, where she spent more than 20 years as the Assistant Director of Academic Advising. In 2015, she took over in the newly created role of Director for Student-Athlete Experience. Every day she works with OU student-athletes, past and present.
In 1978 that spotlight was on Turner, then Teresa Ray, younger sister of OU basketball great Clifford Ray.
"It was unique to play where my brother had played ball and follow in his footsteps," Turner said. "It was very exciting to be able to play in an arena like Lloyd Noble. At the time, it was such an honor to be in the position to be on a full scholarship and I was excited about the opportunity. I don't even know if we looked ahead enough to see how athletics, women's sports in particular, would change over the years and that it could get to the point we are now."
Turner moved to Norman from South Carolina for her junior and senior years of high school. She graduated from Norman High and then, along with Joyce Parker, was awarded a scholarship.
Significant at the time, but not to Turner.
"I didn't even think about all that other stuff then," she said. "I was more worried about the inconsistency with the coaching staff, and I knew at the time I didn't want to do anything to jeopardize our scholarship. I knew that sports weren't going to last forever, either.
"I didn't take the opportunity for granted and I knew that there was no way it would be in vain for me," she added. "There was no way that I would not finish my degree while I was here."
She led the Sooners with 7.2 rebounds per game as a freshman and was a three-year letterwinner. Turner went on to earn her bachelor's degree in psychology and later attained her master's degree in guidance and counseling.
Marita Hynes, who spent 27 years at OU as a coach and athletics administrator and retired in 2003 as Associate Athletics Director and Senior Woman Administrator, said, "What makes her special is that Teresa can relate to the issues of academics and athletics. She's excellent in her position. She keeps everyone in line."
As an advisor, that line started and ended in her office where she counseled, nurtured, prodded and encouraged OU student-athletes dealing with all different types of academic and athletic issues.
Now, with the same passion she had for connecting with and developing student-athletes academically, she provides exposure to career and professional opportunities outside of their sports.
"My impact at OU is different," Turner said. "Maybe some people know me for having played Division I basketball, but my impact has been since basketball. The opportunity to work with student-athletes is phenomenal.
"It doesn't matter who we are or what we do, there is always someone who came before to set the stage for later on."
- Teresa Turner
"In both capacities, you're still looking at the long-term results because the whole point is to prepare student-athletes for graduation and life beyond the now," she continued. "I focus on other ways I can help them for life after sports, whether that be career preparation, internship opportunities, job shadowing or mentorships. That's the biggest thing."
And a continuous thing. Turner's new role has given her an opportunity to work with members of each of OU's 21 athletics teams. She also remains in touch with others who may not be competing any more but are still in school. And with athletes who are out of school but are looking to return to complete their degree.
"It's nice to be able to help people throughout the process," she said. "We value the whole family here and we want everyone to have a good experience. My goal is to make sure no one feels like they aren't cared for, whether they are playing ball or not. I want to make sure the students feel like they can call any time and they are valued.”
Turner's lasting influence has been the objective since day one.
"It doesn't matter who we are or what we do, there is always someone who came before to set the stage for later on," Turner said. "I hope I've made it easier and opened the door for others to have opportunities and set the stage for them to do something meaningful."
Teresa Turner, the educator.