Principal dribbles way into hall of fame
Owen High principal Meg Turner will join the likes of Moses Malone, Grant Hill, Dell Curry and Alonzo Mourning when she's inducted into the Virginia High School Hall of Fame in October.
Turner frequently wears maroon to show her Owen Warhorse pride. But it's her playing career for the George Wythe High School Maroons for which she's earned the recognition. That career shaped who she is today, she said.
Turner was a four-year starter for the Maroons. There she became the first girl in the state to score at least 2,000 career points. She had 2,202 when she graduated.
“Owen reminds me a lot of my old school," said Turner, who is entering her sixth year as the principal at Owen. "They're both smaller schools in tight-knit communities. And they share the color maroon."
Turner established five state records as a member of the Maroons. She scored the most points in a season (787) and grabbed the most career rebounds (1,134). Her 32.7 points per game was a state-best as well. Her record of 742 career free throws stands to this day.
Her prowess from the free throw line helped her establish five national records, certified by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Turner was also fourth nationally in rebounding and third in free throws attempted in a season with 232.
"At the time she was the best all-around girl athlete here in Wytheville," said Danny Gordon, news and sports director for WYVE Radio in Wytheville. "Some other great athletes have come and gone since Meg, but there has never been a girls basketball player as good here since."
Turner's athleticism was displayed on the track as well, where she lettered four years. She set Wytheville's record for the 100-meter low hurdles in 1981 and was a member of two relay teams that established school records as well.
Turner said a "super-supportive" family made her believe she was capable of accomplishing anything. Her mother, from Marion, was an athlete who played basketball and tennis. Her father was a business man, "but he has always believed in women and advocated for women. That support was so important," Turner said.
Turner said the passage of Title IX in 1972 - education amendments that mandated gender equality in schools - gave her the opportunity to pursue the sport she loved.
"There weren't a lot of opportunities for women then like there are today," she said. "In the Virginia High School Hall of Fame there are currently six women enshrined. I'll be the seventh."
Although Turner did not start playing basketball until the sixth grade, she made the most of the opportunity that Title IX provided.
"The college offers started pouring in," she said. "I still have the letters in a bag."
She narrowed her choices to two schools in the Southeast Conference that had young programs - Vanderbilt University and University of Florida. Turner joined the Vanderbilt Commodores prior to the 1981-82 season.
"The year that I went in as a freshman, there were five of us that had been recruited, and four of us had been All-Americans," she said. "There was a buzz at Vanderbilt at the time because the school had made a commitment to building its program."
The team finished 20-14 and advanced to the final AIAW National Division I tournament as a second seed. Turner averaged 8.5 points per game, fourth on the team. Prior to her sophomore year, fellow Vanderbilt alum and longtime ESPN writer Buster Olney, described her as a "field general" and a player who had "all the fundamentals of basketball down to a core" in a piece he wrote for the college's newspaper.
Her sophomore season would be her last in the game of basketball.
"We were playing in the SEC, and the level of competition was definitely heating up. (Basketball) was going to require me to really dig in," she said. "I had pledged a sorority. I was enjoying socializing, and I needed to study. And I was having some conflicts with my coach."
Turner decided that there was more to life than sports and walked away from basketball.
"I gave up all of that money that came with that scholarship," she said. "I wanted to go play somewhere else, but my parents wouldn't let me because I was at Vanderbilt and they were like, 'this is about the rest of your life.'"
So Turner began to focus elsewhere, earning a degree from Vanderbilt's Peabody College of Education and Human Development. After college she worked for three years as a special education teacher.
"I knew I had to go back to school and get my master's and leadership credentials to be a principal," Turner said. "So I applied to a few grad schools and was accepted to Harvard, where I got my master's in school administration."
Turner moved to Western North Carolina, not far from her mother's hometown, Marion.
As she awaits her induction in Charlottesville, Virginia, Turner reflects on how her athletic career shaped her as an administrator.
"I want Owen to be known for excellence, and for people in the community to be confident when sending their kids here," she said. "I think that playing team sports really helps you understand that to achieve something you have to work together. It's about the team as opposed to the individual."