As a Black woman building a successful career in sports, Katasha Turner leans on past examples while leading the next generation of Selma High School (Ala.) student-athletes.

Maybe in other towns, a school’s motto is just words on a wall. But here, in a fiercely proud, historically Black community, the mantra “Quality Education By Any Means Necessary” is emblematic of the spirit that’s persisted since John Lewis first stood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

That phrase serves as a rallying cry for faculty and students to dig deep and get the job done. No one embodies that energy more than the school’s athletic director, Katasha Turner.

While being interviewed for this story, Turner fielded our questions while also shepherding student-athletes leaving her track practice. That’s Turner’s happy place—the track. She was a talented runner herself before attending Alabama State where she was a student athletic trainer for track and field, as well as other sports.

She’s now the head coach for the track and varsity volleyball programs, in addition to being the athletic director. In other words, when her student-athletes head home, she goes right back to work. 

While being an AD and coaching multiple sports is a tall order, continuing to coach was never in doubt. She loves it too much. And if you know Katasha Turner, you know there was no convincing her otherwise.

Following Their Example

Turner is strong-willed, grounded and hard-working. The strong women she looked up to in her youth instilled these traits in her.

Her aunts Eleanor—who worked at and served on the board of the YMCA—and Lucille—who was the president of the National Urban League—demonstrated how women should lead. Her grandma was a retired nurse that became a prominent figure in the St. Louis political scene. She taught a young Katasha how to make her voice heard in a male-dominated field.

Turner’s mother was a single parent, worked at Job Corp as a special education teacher, and taught G.E.D classes on the side. Turner admires her mother for her selflessness and dedication to those she served. 

In short, her role models set the table for a glass-shattering career.

“You rarely see women athletic directors. And I mean, you rarely see African-American athletic directors,”

Taking the Reins

In 2019, Turner became just the second woman to be an athletic director in the history of Selma High School. And as a Black woman working in sports, Turner acknowledges obstacles and hurdles are everywhere.

“It’s tough as a female because people don’t think you know what you’re doing, and it’s especially tough for an African-American woman,” Turner said. “You can have all the certifications, you can have all that. But it is a challenge because sometimes people do not think that a woman knows what she’s doing.”

The stereotypes that exist against women, and Black women in particular, often deter them from pursuing roles in sports they’re qualified for (if not overqualified).

“You rarely see women athletic directors. And I mean, you rarely see African-American athletic directors,” Turner said. Few too many Black women exist in rooms where decisions are made.

That’s why Turner belongs to national organizations that work toward greater equity and opportunity for women and minorities in sports. She’s a member of the Global Community of Women in High School Sports and the National Organization of Minority Athletic Directors, or NOMAD.

Turner said building trust and getting buy-in are important for breaking through the stereotypes she faces. To earn that trust, she continues to look for ways to enrich the lives of her student-athletes.

Finding Ways to Empower Students

According to U.S. News & World Report, the Selma student population is roughly 900 students. The makeup is 99.9% Black, with 85% living in economically disadvantaged households. 

Turner is committed to providing any opportunity possible to Selma students, not just to help them explore new interests, but to keep them safe.

This past year, Turner sent out a survey to students asking what activities they would be interested in if offered at their school. The results of the survey spurred six new athletic programs at Selma: 7-on-7 girls’ football, wrestling, girls’ and boys’ golf, and girls’ and boys’ e-sports teams.

Turner launched these programs because she knows how important it is to keep students active within the school. She uses the phrase “Be. B.I.G”—her shorthand for “Believe in Being Greater”—to encourage athletes to be their very best, on the field and off.

“The streets are always waiting,” Turner said. “Sometimes kids are going home to nothing, or nobody at home. But this is a chance to do something constructive and competitive. If [students] don’t like the situation that they’re in, hopefully this can be an avenue to help them maneuver themselves into other opportunities.”

Blazing Her Own Trail

Turner is the embodiment of creating opportunities through sports. In her coaching career of 16 years, she’s coached basketball, volleyball, softball, and track and field. 

She opens herself to any challenge and any opportunity that comes her way—and she takes them head on. Her attitude and drive, combined with a wealth of knowledge and experience as an athlete and coach, have prepared Turner for the job she was born to do. 

And now that she’s taken her seat at the table as Selma High School’s athletic director, she’s working tirelessly to provide opportunities for her students to take control of their own futures.

“I’m being the example that my mother, my grandmother, my aunts—that they showed me,” Turner said.

Katasha Turner is making “queen” moves, as she calls them: leading by example and demonstrating just how far a fearless attitude and hard work can take you.

The future is bright at Selma High School and Turner is putting her best foot forward to make sure it stays that way. By any means necessary.

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