"Renee's a doer:" Marquette assistant Turpa inducted into the NHSBCA Court of Honor
A quote, attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, says the world is made up of two types of people -- people who want to do the work and people who want to take credit for the work.
"We need more people in the first category," Indiana Basketball Coaches Association Executive Director Steve Witty said. "There's less competition."
Witty, a retired boys coach at Ben Davis, where he won state titles in 1995 and 1996, found a kindred spirit when he met former Portage/Valparaiso girls head coach and current Marquette Catholic girls assistant Renee Turpa.
"Renee's a doer," he said. "We joke all the time how smart we are that we made a part-time job into a full-time job. We both enjoy doing what we do. There aren't many women out there who are willing to make that commitment. They're there. They're just hard to find. Renee has no ego. She's willing to do whatever it takes for the betterment of the game, for the kids."
The passion for basketball burns deeply with both, and the National High School Basketball Coaches Association recognized Turpa's contributions to the game at last week's national conference in Cleveland, where she became the first woman to be inducted into the NHSBCA's Court of Honor.
"Sitting in the room with those guys, it was kind of like Will Ferrell (in Elf), I know him! I know him!" Turpa said. "It was really cool. I'm proud to be a part of the organization. My predecessors who were honored, I was like, wow, what they've done for the sport of basketball. It felt funny that I've been there maybe six, seven years, and some of them have been involved at the grass roots of high school basketball since the 70s. I kind of walked in right in the middle. To be included in that, it's very humbling."
A pioneer in women's basketball, Turpa played in the GAA (Girls Athletics Association) days of the sport, which didn't gain its Indiana High School Athletic Association sanction until 1975-6. She continued her career at Ball State before entering the teaching and coaching profession. Her basketball affiliations cover practically every letter of the alphabet, including the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association, which she joined as a member of the board of directors in 2009.
"Renee was one of the first people I got on board," said Witty, IBCA Executive Director since 2002, and a trail blazer for the NHSBCA. "I found her to be very energetic, hard-working, a great problem solver. She really cares about the players and coaches, and is willing to do whatever she could to give back to the game. I'd hate to think where we'd be without her. She's really been good to me and my family. We've become more like friends than colleagues."
Several years ago, Witty brought Turpa on to the NHSBCA as a board member, and her involvement with the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) paved the way for the entities to connect.
"I helped bring WBCA on board pretty much single-handedly, just going to the Final Four, sitting in on meetings, trying to talk to people, make contacts," Turpa said. "(Marquette coach) Katie (Collignon) was part of the VU staff, so I went with her to Nashville. I accidentally met (Danielle Donehew), who became the next (WBCA) executive director, and she came to the (NHSBCA) convention that summer It all happened pretty quick. It's been around for a while, but it's become a pretty big organization in a short period of time."
In 2012, the NHSBCA Court of Honor was established to recognize individuals who have contributed to the growth of the organization and/or had an impact on scholastic basketball nationally.
"When Renee first came on board, her role was with women's basketball. With the state, she'd take care of clinic registration, membership things," said Witty, a member of the inaugural group. "Eventually, we changed her title since she wasn't just dealing with women. One of the things (the NHSBCA) wanted to do was honor coaches in different states for their contributions to high school basketball. After about five years, it was time for Renee's efforts to be honored. She wasn't selected because she's a woman, she was selected because of how she's given back. Male or female, nobody does what they do without an understanding spouse, and Pete (Turpa) is very supportive."
The irony of the award coinciding with the 2021-22 school year marking the 50th anniversary of Title IX, a law instituted to provide gender equality, isn't lost on Turpa.
"I love the IBCA. I'm happy to work with Steve. He's an incredible leader. He's done a lot for women's basketball," she said. "I lived Title IX. I played against boys. I didn't care. Part of my talk was about how far women's sports has come, how far the NCAA has comes. Basketball is basketball, women's, men's. We're really trying to include every level of basketball, not just high school, but those are the bases that connect everyone, the impact of high school basketball on the whole landscape of things, the value it has in your life, learning your roles, playing together as a team."
Collignon was excited to see her friend and mentor honored.
"She has done so much for the sport of basketball and has been a true trail blazer for not only women's basketball, but all of Indiana basketball as well," said. "If you know Renee, you know how humble and thoughtful she is. She isn't in it for herself, but to truly better the situations of every player, coach and really everyone around her. In my opinion, she was already a hall of famer, but I'm ecstatic to see her recognized formally."
Turpa is also the athletics marketing assistant and group ticket sales coordinator at VU.
As she approaches 65, Turpa isn't planning on scaling back any time soon. When she does, the shoes to fill will be huge.
"We've fought hard to get the organization represented," she said. "Not every state has one. The more events we do, it's great, but it's time-consuming, tiring. I've got to think about the future, the sustainability of it. If I drop one, I would have to drop them all. I've worked hard to do this and we don't want it to go away, which it would unless I find a really good person to replace me."
Renee Turpa was inducted into the National High School Basketball Coaches Association's Court of Honor last week.