After Rod Turnbull’s father passed away, the high school freshman turned to sports, not knowing, one day, he would follow in his dad’s footsteps as a coach.
“I believe sports and the coaches I had with them were one of the things that helped me work through that,” he said.
His love of sports led Turnbull to be named the athletic director of the year on Dec. 4 by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. The association is the nonprofit, rule-making body that oversees sports at secondary schools in Washington.
Turnbull is the coach of the Friday Harbor High School boys’ basketball team, San Juan Island School District athletic director and assistant principal of the middle school.
He coaches in the high school gym, named after his dad. His father helped to facilitate construction but passed in 1980, before completion. A sign honors his memory on the front of the building.
“It has meant a lot to me to represent what my father was about,” said Turnbull. “He cared deeply for the students he worked with and he was a great role model for me in the short time I was able to be with him.”
Athletic directors from schools, ranging from locations along the Canadian border to Seattle, voted for Turnbull to be athletic director of the year in the WIAA’s district one. It’s one of nine districts in the association and is comprised of 55 high schools and 43 middle schools, including Friday Harbor High School.
“[It’s] pretty humbling to be recognized by your peers,” said Turnbull.
He was hired as athletic director for the school district in 2003, following Cal Johnson, who Turnbull said advised him.
“I was fortunate to follow a very organized athletic director,” said Turnbull. “He was a great mentor.”
As athletic director, Turnbull oversees and manages the SJISD’s sports program, including budgeting for and leasing equipment, scheduling events, coordinating travel arrangements for away games, and hiring officials like referees.
His life-long love of sports materialized while at Friday Harbor High School when he played football, basketball, golf, and track. His football team made it to the state playoffs, twice, during his tenure, and he also placed fourth in a 4×100 state relay in track.
Today, Friday Harbor staff say they’re grateful he’s stayed in the district.
“He consistently displays leadership roles…and is an advocate for rural school districts,” said Danna Diaz, superintendent for San Juan Island School District.
Other accolades from SJISD faculty, as well as colleagues from WIAA’s district one, will be read during the Washington Secondary School Athletic Administrators Association conference, next spring when Turnbull will receive an award for the designation. The ceremony will be at 6 p.m., April 24 in Spokane.
Until then, Turnbull will continue his duties for the last roughly 15 years — focusing on the “educational-based athletics,” he says teaches youth about competition, as well as life skills.
“I always enjoy watching the growth that a team or individual makes during their sports season,” he said.
Watch Turnbull in action at the next basketball games, at 5 p.m., Monday, Dec. 18 against Nooksack Valley, away, and 3 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 20 against Darrington, away.