Owasso Baseball Coach Creates Champions
By TERRELL LESTER
Editor at Large
BUILDING A DYNASTY: Owasso Head Baseball Coach Larry Turner stands at Owasso High School’s Stigall Field, which has artificial turf and water-resistant dirt around the infield, four pitching mounds beyond the outfield fence, and batting cages.
TERRELL LESTER for GTR Newspapers
Larry Turner has made a career out of winning baseball games.
He has won so many games he is in a league of his own.
He has set the standard, the gold standard, by which high school baseball coaches and their programs measure themselves.
Now in his 32nd year at Owasso, Larry Turner has averaged 31 victories per season, has won 10 state championships and has been hailed as the best high school baseball coach in the United States.
It is well nigh impossible to mention the words “Owasso baseball” without adding the name “Larry Turner” in the same breath.
Owasso prides itself as “the city without limits.”
Turner has created a baseball program without limits. When he directed the Rams past 36 consecutive opponents in 2013 to become only the ninth undefeated baseball champion in state history, Turner increased his won-loss record to 969-221.
In the last 17 seasons, Turner and Owasso played in 15 state championship games, winning nine.
Owasso has been nationally ranked on a consistent basis, opening the 2014 season at No. 1 in a number of publications.
Four Owasso players in the last 10 years have been singled out as Gatorade Oklahoma Baseball Players of the Year.
Turner was recognized as the 2013 national baseball coach of the year by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
As Owasso’s first baseball All-Stater, a member of the school’s first state championship team, in 1973, and an Oklahoma Coaches Association hall of famer, Turner is the most celebrated of the 30,000 residents in this city that sprawls into Tulsa and Rogers counties.
He is personable and engaging, upstanding and insightful.
He is demanding, yet fair.
He is a perfectionist, but not to a fault.
He is a father of three and father figure to his team.
He is a baseball coach and a mentor of life.
He can instruct on the art of the sacrifice bunt; he can expound on the virtue of being responsible.
Record books can track his success on the baseball diamond.
Future generations will track his success in molding young minds.
The 59-year-old Turner prefers not to dwell on the subjects of victories and championships. That’s old news.
Preparing his players for life after baseball, that is his passion. That is the future.
“We have better people than we do players,” is Turner’s mantra.
“We work hard at making the kids work hard and do the right thing,” he likes to say.
Those last two comments reveal much about Turner.
Never does he begin a sentence with “I.” He is a team player through and through. He speaks as a team. He thrives as a team. And Owasso’s Rams, from coaches and school administrators to parents and boosters, are a team. Turner includes them all when he speaks of “we.”
When Turner admonishes the players in his charge to “do the right thing,” he is following in the footsteps of those who influenced him.
As an Owasso teenager, Turner played baseball for Melvin Spencer and football for Gary Harper.
“I wanted to be like them,” Turner said. “A lot of things I’ve done over the years, I modeled after Coach Spencer and Coach Harper.
“We wanted to do just the right thing; treat people the way that we wanted to be treated.”
Turner and his coaching staff lead the players before games.
Together, they venture out into the Owasso community, taking part in fundraisers, visiting with veterans, participating in reading programs involving first-graders, championing Special Olympics.
“We get out and do things beyond just showing up and playing baseball,” Turner said.
“We want to make our community and our school proud that they’re associated with us or that we’re associated with them.”
To that end, Turner has strict rules on appearance and conduct.
Players are required to be clean-shaven, sans earrings. Cleats must be polished before every game.
“We are going to look the part,” he said. “Whether you can play or not, half the battle is looking like a ballplayer.”
As an insight, just days after the team’s return from a spring trip to Florida, Turner recounted a couple of incidents.
“They don’t wear their hats in the restaurant,” he said. “I don’t care if you’ve been on the bus for 24 hours and your hair’s all goofy. We’re not going to wear our hats in there.”
One day, the team stopped at a restaurant for an afternoon meal. Players were lined up, placing orders and drawing drinks.
According to Turner, an elderly couple entered the restaurant, and found themselves at the end of a long and teen- and male-dominated line.
Without prompting and without hesitation, the Rams, en masse, stepped aside and invited the couple to move to the front of the line.
As he says so often, Turner encourages his players to “do the right thing.”
No matter what it is, he said.
“The little things turn into big things,” he said.
Turner’s No. 1 assistant, Steve Holleman, overheard one of the players conversing with his mother on the telephone.
The player, Turner said, was being “hateful to his mother” before ending the conversation.
Holleman quickly intervened. “He made the kid call back and apologize to his mother,” Turner said.
Holleman, according to Turner, told the teenager: “You might talk to her like that at home, but you’re not going to do that here.”
Holleman and Turner were teammates and roommates in college in the 1970s. They have been a part of the Owasso staff for three decades. Also on Turner’s staff are veteran members and longtime friends Brent McConnell, Joe Patterson, Jason Stump and Ryan Cooper.
“Everyone knows their role,” Turner said. “I just kind of roam around and go everywhere. I let my coaches coach. I’m smart enough to know that I don’t know everything.”
He does know a lot about putting together a winning program.
He played for Spencer and returned to join his staff right out of Phillips University in 1978, before taking over the top spot four years later.
Thanks to the work of Turner and his assistants, Owasso boasts one of the finest high school on-campus facilities in the state. Stigall Field has artificial turf and water-resistant dirt around the infield, four pitching mounds beyond the outfield fence, batting cages and blue-ribbon locker rooms.
“We try to do everything first class,” Turner said.
The results can be found in the “championship” category of Oklahoma high school baseball.
“Never in a million years would I have dreamed that we could have done this,” Turner said.
Owasso’s success, Turner said, can be traced to the extra work put in by his players, by his assistants. Early-morning workouts. Weekend practices. Coaching talks. Repetition. A little bit of luck along the way.
And, success can breed success. Turner embraces that. The experience of winning can be and must be handed down from one class to another.
In motivational talks to his players, Turner will say things like:
“If you know that feeling (of winning a championship) in advance, you would work your butt off every single day to get there.
“But you’ve just got to trust us to know that. And then when you get there, you’ll go, ‘man, they weren’t lying; it’s even better than they said.‘”
Indeed, over the last three decades, Larry Turner has made Owasso Rams baseball synonymous with success.
And in the process, he has unwittingly positioned himself at the top of the mountain.