The grand plan was to be just a few years’ time, helping patrol the women’s basketball sidelines at MTSU – some half-hour from her Mt. Juliet roots.
Now, 40 years later, Diane Turnham continues to be a pioneering force in MTSU athletics – and an integral component in MTSU’s ongoing partnership with the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, especially as the Murfreesboro institution continues to work in conjunction with TSSAA to host multiple annual state championship events.
For all these contributions and her decades of service, Turnham – a Deputy Director of Athletics at MTSU -- is a 2022-23 recipient of the TSSAA’s Distinguished Service Award.
“I came to coach women’s basketball, and I was the only full-time assistant we had while the men had two others,” said Turnham, who played collegiate basketball at first Vol State and then as part of the groundbreaking women’s teams at Lipscomb. “And they said, ‘Diane, we’re just so excited that you’re coming to be a coach, did we mention we’re going to let you coach volleyball, too?’ I said there must be some mistake, I haven’t ever coached or really played volleyball.
“But I coached 15 years, then had the opportunity to move into administration and I tell people I probably never would have wanted to do that except I was one of two female coaches in the whole department and the other lady quit to have children and get her doctorate. So, I wanted all of our women’s programs to have the same things our male counterparts had. When I went into full-time administration, I said I’d take the job as long as you let me hire a real volleyball coach.”
With Turnham’s foundation and her hiring of a “real coach,” MTSU eventually broke through as conference champions in volleyball.
As she’s continued to serve the university, she’s also become a vocal ambassador for the school – especially as it pertains to extolling the benefits of MTSU in conjunction with the TSSAA championship events.
But her fond memories of working hand-in-hand to ensure top-notch experiences for high school athletes extends before Spring Fling or state basketball tournaments.
“It probably starts way before Spring Fling, when I was a young volleyball coach and we hosted the girls’ state championships, and we’ve of course hosted boys’ and girls’ basketball for years,” said Turnham, whose husband, Kyle, is Shelbyville Central’s girls’ hoops coach and whose son, Steven, is a recent MTSU graduate. “When I was playing back in the 70s, this is where you came (for championships).
“Not only myself, but a lot of people here take great pride in hosting as many state championships as we can for high school athletes because it is so incredible, such a memorable time. It’s a great experience; we think it’s great for our university and we love having the athletes here, just general students from throughout the state, who can come to MTSU and many end up coming to school here.”
Turnham still remembers MTSU’s desire to begin hosting Spring Fling at its inception and the influence of late, legendary MTSU track coach Dean Hayes.
“We were hosting football back then, and basketball, and we started talking about Spring Fling,” Turnham said. “I was talking to Coach Hayes, and he was like, ‘We gotta get this, Diane.’ He was with us for over 50 years, and when he said to do something, you did it. So we became interested in doing what we could to attract Spring Fling.
“To get to have Spring Fling with all those sports here is just an incredible thing. We are ‘Middle Tennessee’ because the geographic center of the state marker is a half-mile down the street from our gym. I know it’s a great place for teams to come from East and West Tennessee. Being able to come to Murfreesboro, where we love sports and our community embraces sports and to get to host Spring Fling and still have it is an incredible experience for us.”
Turnham has served two stints as MTSU’s interim athletic director and was elected into the Blue Raider Hall of Fame in 2012. In 2021, she finished a five year stint on the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee, and served as its Chair for the 2019-20 season.
Like her own career, which Turnham continues to usher full-speed ahead, she envisions the same for MTSU’s partnership with TSSAA.
“We love working with TSSAA and don’t ever want that relationship to end,” she said. “They’ve been incredible partners with us, and we’re honored to have them in our city any time hosting championships.”
TSSAA proudly salutes Diane Turnham for her multiple contributions to TSSAA and student-athletes throughout the years.