A successful athletic director must be willing to make tough decisions, and according to her former colleagues in the Port Jefferson school district, there’s no better decision-maker than Danielle Turner, who took the reins of the Locust Valley School District’s athletic department in July.
In 2016, Turner was in a difficult situation in Port Jefferson, after she had a dispute with one of the district’s coaches. She decided that it was in the best interests of the team to relieve the coach of his duties with only a few games left in the season. Though it was a difficult decision, it proved to be the right one. The team made it to the state championship game that season, defying all expectations.
Dr. Paul Casciano, Port Jefferson’s superintendent, said that Turner displayed great leadership during that situation. “We knew we had somebody who had the courage to make the tough decisions,” he said.
Turner, 34, of Sayville, was hired as Locust Valley’s new athletic director this spring. She replaced interim director Joseph Pennacchio. A native of Sachem, Turner said her focus is to get acclimated to the district’s culture, since she grew up and taught in Suffolk County, where she was also an administrator.
“My whole life has been out there [in Suffolk County], and that’s kind of what I’m used to,” she said. But thanks to her new colleagues in Locust Valley, the transition hasn’t been hard for her.
Locust Valley Superintendent Dr. Anna Hunderfund commended Turner’s enthusiasm and leadership. “Her dedication to build positive relationships with faculty, parents, alumni and community organizations is apparent,” Hunderfund said, “and will be invaluable to the success of our children.”
“There’s a great program already in place, so I’m not looking to change much,” Turner said. “I think what we want long-term is to expose our kids to things they’ll be doing fitness-wise throughout their life.”
Turner went to Sachem High School before playing Division III volleyball and basketball at SUNY Cortland. There she majored in phys. ed. and minored in sports management. She also earned a masters from Stony Brook University and Touro College, and in 2017 she received a doctorate in educational administration from St. John’s University.
In her free time, Turner referees high school and junior college basketball, using it as a way to “stay in the game,” since she no longer has time to coach. “There’s no practices, so every day is game day,” she said.
A diehard New York Knicks fan growing up, she could name every player on the team’s roster in the 1990s. To this day she still describes herself as an “NBA junkie,” and is hesitant to admit that her favorite player is Le-Bron James. “I’ll take a lot of heat for that,” she joked. “I just enjoy watching him. He’s probably one of the most athletic people on the planet.”
While at Port Jefferson, Turner was known for being very active on social media. She would attend as many games as possible, tweeting pictures from the stands while updating her followers with the final scores. She plans on continuing that tradition in Locust Valley. She said it’s important for teachers and administrators to acknowledge social media and use it as a way to interact with students, while also promoting the school.
“To take this block of student social life and just ignore it, and say that it’s a bad thing, is counterproductive,” Turner said. “Why can’t we meet [the students] where they are and somehow engage with them?”
Her former students used the platform to support their fellow classmates and show school spirit. Turner said that social media has also been used to facilitate interscholastic sportsmanship between schools.
Even though athletic administrative positions are predominately occupied by men, Turner hasn’t let that stop her from moving up the ranks at such a young age.
Although she has great respect for the older female athletic directors that helped pave her path, her gender has never restricted her from any opportunities in the field. “I’ve never felt that this is only a profession for men,” she said. “It was my hard work that got me to this point.”
“I think her background as a competitive athlete helps her come to the forefront,” said Joe Enea, a varsity wrestling coach and history teacher at Locust Valley. “She’s not scared of challenges that come her way, and she’s willing to take them head on.”
Enea, who has coached at Locust Valley for over 20 years, said he believes that Turner’s presence is great for the district, adding that it will lead to a lot of good things in the women’s programs.
Thanks to what she calls the “rise of the travel team,” Turner has seen an increase in female involvement in athletics. “These travel programs have given girls more options when it comes to athletics at a young age,” she said.
Although travel teams have given women the opportunity to try a wide range of sports, Turner said she believes they have also led to a lot of specialization in youth athletics, which, in her opinion, isn’t beneficial for a child’s overall development.
When she was growing up, high school sports took precedence over travel sports for Turner. Now, she said, it’s the other way around. “There are people on Long Island that think if you’re not signed and committed to a college by eighth grade, that you’re behind the eight-ball,” she said. “I have a real problem with making a 10-year-old choose one sport.”
While she would love to see her students have as much success as possible on the field, she said that’s not the priority. “Our responsibility is to give our kids a great athletic experience and to have fun,” she said. She prioritizes the positive experiences that come from being on a sports team, and strives to see her students learn camaraderie, teamwork, dedication, and sportsmanship through athletics.