When August is sweltering and Dawson County Schools begin another year, there will be a notable void in the hallways, the gymnasium and the ball fields of Dawson County High School.
Grady Turner will be retired.
“I don’t think there has ever been anybody that has attended, coached, or played in more sports events than Grady Turner,” said Coach Chess Hamby. “He’s been a part since I can remember. He’s just always been there. It will be a big change without him around.”
“He will not tell you this, but because of his dedication and loyalty, DCHS is in part what it is today,” said longtime friend and colleague Coach Steve Sweat. “He has poured his heart and soul into this school and its people.”
With just under two weeks of school remaining, the Dawsonville icon is winding down a 30 year teaching career and 15 years at the helm of the Tigers’ athletic endeavors as athletic director.
For all who know him and his love of DCHS and its students, this is a bittersweet time. Though Turner will move on to pursue other endeavors, his legacy will undoubtedly live on.
“Coach Turner is completing 30 years of service to the children of Dawson County,” said Dawson County Schools Superintendent Damon Gibbs. “It’s really hard to put recognition of that kind of commitment into words. He hasn’t passed through Dawson County, nor has he just worked in Dawson County. He has committed a lifetime to Dawson County and his legacy will live on for generations.”
Turner finished his own high school career at DCHS with 23 varsity letters in everything from baseball (in which he still holds the school home run record of 16) to debate and one-act play.
There isn’t much that Turner has not participated in at Dawson County High School. At one point he taught drama for two years to help out while the drama teacher battled illness.
He jokes that he has had more meals from the kitchens of Dawson County Schools than from his own mother.
His personal accomplishments at the school he laughs off with great humility, citing the school being a much smaller place when he graduated in 1976 with 284 kids from eighth through 12th grade.
Turner began teaching in Dawson County as a middle school PE teacher in 1988. He would eventually move to the high school where he would be an assistant football coach, golf coach and spend 12 years coaching basketball.
“He doesn’t get as much credit being a good basketball coach as he should,” said DCHS softball coach and teacher Jimmy Pruett. “He won a lot of games and developed a lot of good players out of here too. He was a good basketball coach.”
Pruett and Turner first coached football together in 1991 when Pruett began his DCHS career.
“He has always been a part of Dawson athletics. Everyone in the area, the region, around the state, know and respect the job that he has done here,” Pruett said. “He won athletic director several times. It makes the school look good when someone is that well respected."
When Turner was ready for a new challenge after 12 years of basketball, then Principal Rick Brown told him he could spend less time and set his own schedule as athletic director.
“He lied. Rick Brown lied,” Turner said laughing. “He graciously hired me and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
It is clear Turner doesn’t regret a single moment of his time with the kids or fellow teachers and coaches of Dawsonville.
“I can’t think of a better job than to be around kids every day,” Turner said.
“He’s been a good friend personally and professionally,” Hamby said. “I’m going to miss getting under his skin. I call him just to get under his skin. He will say ‘what do you want?’ I will say, “Nothing. Just getting under your skin.’
“I told him I’m going to miss seeing him around. He said, ‘What do you mean? I’m not dying.’”
“If someone asked me to name my best friends, Grady would be at the top of the short list,” Sweat said. “Other than my real blood brothers, he is as close to family as you can get.”
Try to pin him down on his greatest achievements or prouder moments as AD or as a coach or teacher and the stories always turn to the accomplishments of his students.
Turner’s wife Vicki, who retired last spring from full-time teaching, once asked why he puts so much time in at the job. Turner said he just wanted to do for these kids what he hoped others would have done for his own.
He relayed the story of running into a former student who had found success in the business world. She told Turner that his encouragement during a PE class to always persevere and fight through things had meant more than he would know. She thanked him. Turner told the student she could call him Grady instead of Coach Turner, but she shot back that he would always be Coach Turner to her.
“I realize it’s the ultimate respect. That’s special,” he said.
“I have disciplined and gotten onto kids,” Turner said. “But I hope they would say that everything he did was to make the kids of Dawson County better. Everything I have done was for the kids’ sake.”
“Grady is one that as long as I know he was in the building, I felt comfortable and secure. He has helped people (faculty and students) in many, many ways,” Sweat said.
To know Grady Turner is to know he cares for kids, but he’s probably done more than many people realize.
While working on his undergraduate degree at the University of Georgia he hosted his own radio show and played defensive end for the Bulldogs.
When his grades suffered as a freshman while keeping up the rigors of a college football career, he traded football to be a part of Bill Elliott’s original 1976 pit crew. He would stay with Elliott for seven years and even wind up in Kenny Rogers’ movie “Six Pack” changing a rear tire.
Between traveling the NASCAR circuit and building homes in Atlanta, Turner’s early professional life was somewhat erratic and his soon-to-be bride wanted something more steady. That was about the time he was offered his first teaching position. He doesn’t express any regret over making that change.
“Working here is not a job, it never has been. Working here in Dawson Schools has been a life goal, a life achievement. It’s my life,” he said.
Grady and Vicki Turner were married on April 2, 1988 and honeymooned in Aruba. They agreed then that they would return for their 20th wedding anniversary, but that trip took a back burner to career, to life.
Though it was put off a couple of times, this year the pair will take a cruise to Aruba to commemorate 30 years of marriage along with retirement.
Turner will invest time in his Dahlonega radio station as well as the Gold Creek golf community when he returns.
“I’m ready for a change, but come the end of July, the fall, August, I’m going to be a little bit sad,” he said.