By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special To The Bulletin | Published February 6, 2014
ROSWELL—As Blessed Trinity High School’s founding athletic director, Ricky Turner raced to offer nearly 20 sports from the opening year of 2000, ensuring the school had everything from proper uniforms and equipment to buses and field conditions.
Then amidst that arduous task, he faced tragedy in the loss of his almost 5-year-old daughter, Jessica, in a car crash.
But the Blessed Trinity community and others across the archdiocese provided him the comfort and support to help him bear the piercing grief and sadness. The school dedicated the Jessica Turner Memorial Fieldhouse, and the founding football team placed a large memorial rock outside it, which members still touch before home games. The Turner family created a memorial scholarship for a junior strong spiritually and academically and in extracurricular activities.
“The Catholic Church and the people around us were so good to us. … That was a big part of helping us to get through that,” recalled Turner, whose beloved daughter had often come to campus with her parents. “Every day I get to go into work and see her picture in there and see her name on the wall.”
As he steadfastly carried on with his mission at Blessed Trinity, Turner strove to get the athletic program running quickly and effectively. He drew on his experience from an early coaching position at then-new Salem High School in Conyers and later as assistant football and baseball coach and physical education teacher at St. Pius X High School in Atlanta, his alma mater. That strategy meant growing gradually, starting mainly with junior varsity rather than varsity programs so that athletes on the new teams would not lose badly and give up.
Over 14 years, the athletic program has thrived beyond expectations. Its 22 varsity sports and over 50 Titan teams have now won 25 state championships, 52 regional titles, two regional sportsmanship awards and a slew of other recognitions. A former UGA football player, Turner, at 46, has exceeded his own career goal, having aspired to be a head football coach. At BT he was offered the opportunity also to be athletic director and physical education teacher.
“I’ve been thrilled by the way we’ve grown over the years,” said Turner. “It’s been fun. You have to have kids that work hard and a lot of coaches working hard. Everybody has to be into it. It’s a whole school effort with the teachers, coaches, the priest, administration, everything. And parents have been very supportive.”
Turner was recently chosen as his school’s 2014 honoree at the Archdiocese of Atlanta education banquet. He was deeply touched to be recognized by his colleagues and feels grateful for the support through the years of everyone from the principal to his assistant athletic directors to his administrative assistant.
“We have some great coaches down here and great role models the way they live their faith,” he said. “If it wasn’t for (principal Frank Moore), we wouldn’t be where we are as a school or an athletic program. He’s been wonderful.”
Likewise, Moore praised Turner’s dedication to Catholic education and his “fantastic job” developing the program, noting his recognition as Georgia Athletic Director of the Year in 2011.
“That is a tremendous honor, from over 400 athletic directors throughout the state. He was singled out because of the strength he puts into the program and emphasis he has on doing everything the right way,” Moore said.
To build the right spiritual foundation, Turner arranges special Masses, guest speakers and retreats for student athletes. He and coaches also meet with students and their parents at the beginning of each season to review expectations for both accomplishments and conduct. He strives to grow as a role model, mindful of the faith inspiration he found at St. Pius from its athletic director, Mark Kelly, and religion teacher, Msgr. Richard Lopez.
“You show that if you do it the right way and work hard you can be very successful,” he said.
He and the other coaches also talk about their life experiences to encourage BT students, who, he pointed out, face the same pressures as teens in public schools.
“You’re going to have ups and downs. In sports, as coaches, we can help kids with that, and it will carry over to their entire life, how they raise their kids, how they treat their families and how hard they work at their jobs,” said Turner, who is married and has four sons.
And with the memorial to his daughter, “I tell them just to recognize how short life can be. You always need to give your best because you never know when it will end. And I say ‘always give 100 percent.’ It’s just a reminder as they go on the field.”