By Doris Wedge
Sports have always been a part of Teresa Turner's life, first while watching her older sisters and brother play and hearing her father talk about his college basketball career.
Then came her own basketball days at Norman High and the University of Oklahoma and the professional career of her brother, Clifford Ray Jr. She married her college sweetheart who was a professional football player, and now their daughters have made names for themselves as standout basketball players.
Add to that the fact that Turner's work life concentrates on the academic needs of players on the OU football team. As assistant director of athletic academic affairs, she has worked under four head football coaches and has established relationships with hundreds of Sooner football players.
The students find the photos and clippings which adorn the walls of her office fascinating, and they listen with new respect when they realize that her words of guidance come from her own experiences as a student-athlete.
Born in South Carolina, she came to Norman while a high school student. Her brother, Clifford Ray Jr., was recruited to play at OU, and their parents visited Norman several times during his career here.
"He always said that when he made the pros, he would buy our parents a house," words that were greeted by laughter from his five siblings, she said.
"But when he was playing for the Chicago Bulls, he told our parents to pick a location and he would buy a house."
Remembering the good times they had had in Norman, the Rays chose to move here from their Union, S.C., home with the youngest two of their six children.
"I was in the 10th grade and didn't want to leave, so they let me live with an aunt and finish my 10th grade year," Turner said.
She played basketball there and was surprised by the girls' basketball program at Norman High. "I had heard about halfcourt basketball, but I didn't know anyone still played it," she said. She quickly adjusted and scored a scholarship to play ball at OU two years later.
It was the late 1970s, and OU was just in the beginning a scholarship program for female basketball players.
"It was a very unstable time in the basketball program," she recalled. She played under three coaches during her four-year stint. "It was a great experience, getting to play on the Lloyd Noble court ... a whole new experience for me to be in that environment."
Recalling playing games before very few spectators, she is thrilled with the current basketball program and the support it receives.
"Back then we sometimes played doubleheaders with the men's team," she said. "When we would come out for the second half, people would be arriving early for the men's game so we would have a halfway decent crowd for the second half."
She earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and married OU defensive lineman Richard Turner. He was drafted by the Green Bay Packers but they returned to Norman in the offseason which allowed her to finish a master's degree in guidance and counseling. Her husband was injured during his third season, and Norman has been their home since then.
They have three children, Chelsea, who played basketball for Cameron University and now is working on a master's degree in education at OU. "We were on the road to Lawton a lot," she said, as they followed their daughter's playing career. Their daughter Mariah is a junior at Norman North and playing AAU ball this summer. Her dad is assistant coach for her team, the Blue Angels.
Their son Steven will be a sophomore at OU and is involved in intramural sports. Turner is proud to be godmother to three children, two of whom are children of a former OU student-athlete who she mentored.
That is just one of the rewards she has experienced from working with OU student-athletes.
"Our goal is to make sure that each one is on the track to graduate," she said, speaking of a staff that provides all OU student-athletes the guidance and assistance they need to be as successful in the classroom as they are on the playing field.
"We are proactive," she said, assessing each student athlete during the freshman year to determine any assistance that the student might need to adjust to college academics. "It is more than about helping them maintain eligibility. We want them to graduate."
The athletes have to fit classes and study in with practice, conditioning, team meetings and travel.
"And we want the athletes to understand that students who are not athletes also have demands on them, like jobs and families," she said.
Her work includes regular monitoring of the students' classroom performance and consultation with the students, coaches and professors. She also often talks with parents of the team members. Speaking of the entire coaching and athletic academic affairs staff members, she said "parents have entrusted their sons and daughters to us, and we want to make sure we fulfill the promises that we have made to them."
While many students take a summer break from classes, most athletes have returned to campus to pick up hours in summer classes. "Our work goes on year round," she said.
In addition to family activities, Turner sings in her church choir, serves on the Norman Human Rights Commission, and the boards of United Way and the Cleveland County Family YMCA. Her mother passed away a year ago, but her father, Clifford Ray Sr., still lives in Norman, having retired from Tinker Air Force Base.