HerStory: Peggy Turner Once Got in Trouble for Bringing a Basketball to School. Now, She Uses Sport to Empower Others

HOUSTON – Peggy Turner is dedicated to empowering people through sport. Spanning 40 years, her career in Adapted Sports is something she sees as a calling.

Currently, she works as the Adapted Sports Coordinator at TIRR Memorial Hermann and also coaches their Hotwheels youth basketball team.

She has said that sports saved her life and without it, she would not be here today. For Peggy, rising in spite of the limits life lumps upon us goes back to when she was a young girl.

As a young kid, I always wanted to play, and there were no opportunities for girls in organized sports,” Peggy told Houston Life and HerStory correspondent, Melanie Camp of growing up in the 60s. As a women Peggy experienced firsthand the limits when it came to playing sport professionally, in school, and in the community before Title IX passed.

“I just kind of felt lost as a kid because I tried to play football with the boys at school and the playground, just tossing a ball around, just basic play,” she said, remembering a the time she brought a basketball to school.

“When I was in fifth grade, I got a basketball. I took it to school, was playing on the playground and got that taken away. My mom was called to come take it home, was told home girls don’t play sports. And so as a kid, I felt very shamed, like something was wrong with me because I wanted to play. I wanted to do these things,” she said.

In Peggy’s sophomore year, Title IX passed, and her school started a women’s basketball team. “I’d just eat, sleep, and breathe it and with it my whole focus changed. My grades went up in school, I had this community of friends, and some of the other girls came and tried out,” she said.

Even though the law changed, Peggy said it still took time for attitudes to catch up. While her school was forced to let women play sport, “...the feelings were that perhaps the man that became the basketball coach might not really have wanted that job.”

Laws and rules may change but as Peggy said, continuing limiting attitudes can “...be almost as devastating.”

So how do attitudes change?

“Through Sports...The connection. It’s what I found to be kind of that common denominator as it relates now to people with disabilities. But if you look back through history, some significant dates that stand out that major societal shifts changed. 1964, Civil Rights. 1972 Title IX. 1990, The Americans with Disabilities Act,’ said Peggy.

While they may be different significant events in history Peggy explains the common thread is exclusion. “It’s about exclusion. But if you can use sport and find a common ground, I think that’s the common denominator. Everybody can relate to sport. And if you can change hearts, you can change minds and you can change society.”

A career move in 1982 landed Peggy in Houston. Her position as Manager for Sports & Recreation for People with Disability for the City of Pasadena saw the beginning of what would become a life passion.

I had very little experience working with people with disabilities at that time. My background was recreation and leisure studies but I loved sport and I loved recreation.” Peggy found a perfect fit working with “a population of people who were discounted, who did not have access before ADA. To come in and be able to say, ‘yeah, you can play. If I can do it, anybody can.’”

For several years Peggy was part of launching and hosting the largest international wheelchair basketball tournament in the country. She was involved in building the first wheelchair softball field in the world.

“I actually started the Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp, the first program organized and structured for kids with physical disabilities in the entire greater Houston area in 1990,” said Peggy. The Camp began in the summer before the Americans with Disabilities Act passed. The wheelchair basketball team she is currently involved with through TIRR, evolved from that camp. “We were the Coastal Comets kids team and then three, four years later, transferred over under the TIRR umbrella and became the TIRR Hotwheels,” she said.

That little girl who was told “no” to sport at school but would not listen is still in Peggy today.” I know what it feels like to feel excluded and want to be included and not have kind of reasons that made sense and just be given the opportunity...I do believe that everyone deserves a chance to have that opportunity.”

Peggy explained, “...if someone acquires a disability, the staff at TIRR Memorial Hermann and the rehabilitation hospital, they meet those patients when their life is completely changed. From supporting, not just the patient but, their families, and their home, and their plans in their life.”

The Adaptive Sports program at TIRR or in any city, community, or country is not necessarily about competitive athletics. As Peggy explains, it is about finding joy.

“I got the coolest job in the world because I get to come in and say, there’s life after this. Let me show you...I had options and choices, and I chose this on purpose to catch people, to try to help get them connected for the rest of the life and find joy again.”

After 40 years working in Adaptive Sports, Peggy knows the power in shutting out the “no’s.”

Watch Peggy Turner’s HerStory conversation with Melanie Camp in the video above.

About the Author

Melanie Camp is a correspondent on KPRC 2’s Houston Life. 

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