Diane Cummings Turnham always planned to attend Lipscomb University, but she took a two-year detour to play basketball at Volunteer State before joining the Lady Bisons program in its second year in existence. Her plan was to be an elementary school teacher after graduation, but the college sports world took over as she started her career at Austin Peay and then joined the staff at Middle Tennessee full-time as an assistant women's basketball coach and head volleyball coach. She is an Associate Athletic Director/Senior Women's Administrator and has just started her 35th year at MTSU. She also serves on the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Committee. She spent some time this week talking with Lipscombsports.com.
What years did you play at Lipscomb? Who were your coaches?
"I played basketball from 1978-80. They had a team one year before me. I played for Trish Duty one season and Charles Beavers my senior season."
Why did you decide to attend Lipscomb?
"My best friend, Linda Wilkerson, was the daughter of a preacher. I grew up in a little country church in Mount Juliet. When we got to high school Linda's father decided he and his family needed to go to New Zealand to be missionaries.
"So my best friend left and we were just devastated. We said we would meet at Lipscomb when we went to college. She went to Lipscomb, but Lipscomb didn't have a basketball team my freshman year so I went to Vol State to play. Vol State offered me a little money to play. Vanderbilt had recruited me out of Vol State, but in the end my heart was at Lipscomb. It is one of the greatest things I ever did to go there. It was the right fit for me. I loved my time there. I still love that place. There is a part of my heart that will always be at Lipscomb."
What is your fondest athletic memory at Lipscomb?
"Oh, wow, there are a lot of things. First of all, I loved Coach Duty. She always said she wasn't really a basketball coach but she took the coaching job so we could have a team. She gave us her heart and soul. I loved working with her.
"Back then there was only one gym (McQuiddy). The women had to practice at 6 a.m. or 10 p.m. It was tough. We even practiced off campus. We really wanted to play. We had to work hard to fit our practices in, but we didn't care. As long as we had a team to play on we didn't care what we had to do.
"The other thing was getting to know Coach Don Meyer. I just really admired him a lot. I admired Coach Ken Dugan a lot. I dated a Lipscomb baseball player while I was there so I really got to Coach Dugan.
"So many different people there were so phenomenal. That is what made athletics so great. There were so many people who I truly love there.
"We had a small school but we had a lot of team spirit. And, of course, there was Chuck Ross. I can still see him standing at the end of the gym with his purple jacket and his shaker going `press, Diane, press!'
"Connie Bentley and I are good friends and we played together on the basketball team. She was distantly related to Chuck. He would call us to the lobby of Johnson Hall to hang out with him. We would think we had a guy calling for us and it would be Chuck."
Who had the biggest influence on you during your athletic career at Lipscomb? How?
"I loved Trish Duty because of her sweet spirit and her heart.
"I could not help but admire Coach Meyer for all of the things he did. He ran such a quality program and did so many things for basketball. Even after I left Lipscomb, when I would run into him on the road, he would always come up and give me something. I have a lot of information from him that I collected through the years.
"Carmen, his wife, came back to school while I was at Lipscomb. We had classes together.
"He influenced me as to who I wanted to be as a coach even though at the time I didn't think I was going to be a coach. A lot of the things he gave me I used with my teams.
"Those two, Trish Duty and Coach Meyer, had a huge influence on me."
What is your fondest non-athletic memory from your time at Lipscomb?
"It would be a tie between chapel and Singarama. I loved chapel every day. It was about getting together with everyone after it was over.
"I never was in one, but I loved Singarama. I was in Delta Delta, but because of basketball I wasn't able to participate in Singarama. But I didn't miss watching Singarama.
"Those were neat things that I think were special and specific to Lipscomb that I wouldn't take anything for."
What is the most valuable thing you gained or learned from your time at Lipscomb?
"The biggest thing is I was exposed to a lot of different things at Lipscomb. Some were great. Some were not so great. It taught me a lot about the world and how I wanted to live my life.
"There were a lot of people who really shined bright for me while I was there. When I left Lipscomb I wanted to walk that way. I wanted people to see Christ in my life, not me, but him.
"I am not much, but with Christ inside me I am a much better person. I try to walk that walk and sometimes it is very difficult in life. At Lipscomb I had to walk it. I had some friends who weren't Christians when I was there. I guess I thought everyone was going to be a Christian.
"I learned a lot in the classroom. But out of the classroom I learned a lot about life … about being that light people can see. I pray a lot, `Lord, please help me be a stepping stone to you instead of a stumbling block to people.
"To me it is about lifting people up and not tearing them down."
Who was your favorite professor? Why?
"Joyce Rucker taught children's literature. One of the great moments of my life was when my son, Steven, walked into Middle Tennessee Christian and one of his teachers in the sixth grade was Joyce Rucker. I was just in tears. She is all about style, grace and the Christian spirit. She had a huge influence on me.
"Another teacher I loved was Marlin Connelly. I took him for every Bible class he had. I loved how he presented the word.
"They were both great teachers and great people.
"I only had one class with Batsell Barret Baxter. I watched him on the "Herald of Truth". He was an icon for me. His voice had such a calming effect. He seemed so Christ-like. I really felt like I was in the presence of someone pretty big."
Where do you live now?
"We live on the outskirts of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I never thought anywhere but Mount Juliet would be my home, but Murfreesboro has become my home. It is a great place to work and raise a family."
Who is your employer? What is your occupation? What does your position entail?
"I am starting my 35th year in the Middle Tennessee athletics department. I am Senior Associate Athletic Director and Senior Women's Administrator.
"I came to MTSU and thought I coach a few years and go back to Mount Juliet to be an elementary school teacher just like my hero, Joyce Rucker.
"I decided there was a lot here at Middle Tennessee that I wanted to do. I didn't have to move around to allow my career to go forward. I love what I have done. In my office there are pictures of hundreds of athletes and I have a story about every one of them.
"Our athletes are really good people and we hope we have helped them grow spiritually, mentally and physically. I hope I am doing a good job of pointing them in the right direction. I have been very blessed to work here.
"Larry Joe Inman was my coach at Mount Juliet. He had recruited me to play basketball here, but I wanted to come to Lipscomb. When I was in high school he pushed me harder than I had ever been pushed my entire life.
"I was a G.A. at Austin Peay and we played Middle Tennessee. He told me he wanted me to be his full-time assistant. I came here to coach basketball. But when I accepted the job Coach Jimmy Earle, who was the athletic director, said `Diane, did I mention we are going to let you coach volleyball too'. I told him he had not mentioned that. I told him I knew the ball was white and that I thought six players were on the court. That was the extent of my volleyball knowledge. He said, `congratulations, you will do fine'.
"I coached both volleyball and basketball for a few years. In basketball we were pretty good. In volleyball we weren't that good, but we tried really hard. I wanted to go into administration, but I wanted to give the team a real volleyball coach.
"I had recruited some pretty decent kids and my first hire as an administrator was Lisa Kissee as the volleyball coach in 1994-95. My proudest moment was when she came in and won the Ohio Valley Conference in volleyball because I knew how far we had come. We came from nothing to a conference contender and that made me feel so good inside."
Tell us about your family.
My husband, Kyle, is the girls’ basketball coach at Central Magnet High School. Our son, Steven, is a junior at Middle Tennessee Christian. They made it to the state tournament in basketball last year. He is so excited. He will probably be the starting point guard. Mom and Dad are beaming a little bit."
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.