By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
EDMOND, Okla. —
NCAA Division II puts an emphasis on community service.
Perhaps the organization took its cue from Warren Turner.
Delivering apples, helping the Salvation Army and the Ronald McDonald House, serving at banquets, cleaning up … whatever the project, Turner and his Missouri Southern baseball players accepted the job.
“It started when the Kiwanis Club has apples it needs to deliver,” Turner said. “I thought that would be a good idea for my players. I had some players who were quite a ways from here, like Chicago. I wanted to keep them active and busy, and I thought this would be a good way to do it. And I figured once people got to know the players, they would come out and watch them play.
“Word got around that we’d do anything for anyone who needed help. We sold pizzas for Super Bowl Sunday. We served at I don’t know how many banquets at the college, then they would feed us good. We cleaned up after the Fall Fiesta downtown. We were the No. 1 civic organization in Joplin. Division II has the motto about community service. We were doing that many years before NCAA D-2 did it.”
One of Turner’s favorite statements: “I teach more than baseball. I teach life.” And his players learned it was true.
“Players complained, “Turner said, “but when they didn’t complain was after graduation when they were filling out an application to get a job. I had a lot of employers call me and say are you sure you guys did all those community projects? I’d say yes, and that’s why I know he would be a good hand at your job.”
The Lions also were pretty good on the baseball field, winning 852 games during his 31-year career that began in 1977.
“I had just gotten the head basketball job at Parkwood High School that spring after Russ (Kaminsky) retired,” Turner said. “I’m the only undefeated coach Joplin has ever had. I never coached a game.
“Missouri Southern called me and said they had a job as offensive line coach and baseball coach since Ed Wuch was leaving. And Dr. (Leon) Billingsly wanted me to eventually coach basketball out there. I was torn. I hated to leave high school, but I thought this might be the one time to get a college position.”
Turner guided the Lions to five World Series appearances — three in NAIA and two in NCAA Division II. The Lions finished second in 1978 (NAIA) and 1991 (NCAA D-2).
Turner also provided a form of community service for baseball teams throughout the middle of the country by hosting three tournaments in March — Larry Hickey Classic, Mutt Miller Classic and Leroy Wilson Classic, named after three friends of the baseball program.
“Coaches across the Midwest knew if they lost any early games due to bad weather, they could call me and I would schedule them into the tournaments within a day or two,” Turner said. “I probably had more games scheduled than I was allowed to play, so I’d give up my game and they would roll in and play.
“We’d change the tournament schedule day-to-day. I know I drove the umpires nuts with all the game time changes.”
Many of Turner’s 720 losses came in February against the likes of Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Oral Roberts.
“They had played Arkansas and other Division I schools before I got here,” Turner said. “I played Arkansas, and I called the guys at Oklahoma, Oral Roberts, Oklahoma State and said if you are looking for games, contact me.
“That was a good experience. We got to play in some great facilities. I got to know Gary Ward (former Oklahoma State coach) and he invited us to come down and play in the dedication game for their new stadium, Allie Reynolds Stadium. Of course, they paid us, and that helped us.”
Turner quickly points out his program was not a one-man show.
“Mike Hagedorn, the hitting coach, was a volunteer,” he said. “Steve Luebber, Kermit Luebber helped me. The concession workers … I had lots of good help. I couldn’t do it all by myself. Wendell Redden (former Globe sports editor) was an advisor to me. When I’d call in a score from the road, I’d tell Wendell ‘you know me as well as anyone, so just put in the paper what you think I would say.’ And at the same time Kermit was telling me all the coaching mistakes I made that day.
“I enjoyed every day that I went to work. As far as coaching, I was lucky to work under three people who really helped me – Russ Kaminsky, Dewey Combs and Jim Frazier. Those are my three idols. You could listen to them and learn a lot.”