Student Profile: Jamie Turnage

Jamie Turnage understands the joy of soccer. She also understands the pain.

Fortunately for the Twin City Youth Soccer Association, Turnage, a third-year student in the Wake Forest University School of Law, is giving back to the sport she had to give up playing competitively.

Last fall, Turnage worked for the association in a part-time position and volunteered to coach a team of 11- and 12-year-old girls. When the recreation director of the association, Scott Wollaston, ran into a shortage of coaches for the spring season because of explosive growth in the program, Turnage not only volunteered again, but she put out the call to fellow law students.

That’s why when parents attend one of the busy practice sessions for the kids, held throughout the week at different fields in Winston-Salem, they’re likely to see Wake Forest law students littered among the fields.

For Turnage, coaching soccer is about as much fun as playing.

“My favorite part of coaching is the impact I can have on a child,’’ she said. “ I remember having older  college girls come to my practices when I was younger and I thought it was the coolest thing – now I get to pass that on.”

Soccer and rehab

Turnage got a late start playing soccer, beginning in a rec league at the age of 10 in Wilson, N.C., where she grew up.

But she was skilled and quickly learned as a sweeper, or defensive player, how tough it could be, especially for someone who came to the game late. She made a travel team in her second year in the sport, and wound up playing on her varsity team after she moved to Boulder, Colo., for high school.

That was a tough experience; as a new school, Turnage said her team “got beat by 10 goals every game.’’ But by the senior year, the team had made the playoffs. Turnage said it was heartening to see how the team came together. She initially attended Barton College in Wilson, which is where she encountered her first serious injury, a torn anterior cruciate ligament  in her left knee. It is an injury common to athletes, in particular young women.

After months of rehabilitation, she resumed playing, but that January, she suffered her second ACL tear, this time in the right knee. “Just a change of direction’’ on the field is what did it, Turnage said.

She worked with Dan Duffy of Cape Fear Rehabilitation Services in the Wilmington area to get better, but when she suffered another injury, it required a third surgery, and she and her father came to the tough decision that her playing career was over.

Turnage said throughout her injuries and rehab she learned a lot about why women are prone to suffer ACL injuries. Women, she said, are taught to keep their knees together, which might be genteel, but is not good for athletes. When women run, she said, you can see their knees tend to bend inward. Nowadays, she said, savvy coaches and trainers work with women early in their sports lives to admonish them to keep their knees straight.

Impact on a child

After transferring to UNC Wilmington, Turnage wound up volunteering as an assistant coach for a local girls rec team, and then wound up as head of the JV team and assistant varsity girls’ coach at New Hanover High School, working under veterans men’s coach, Al Pastore, coaching girls for the first time.

There, she said, three girls tore their ACLs. “We just passed around my old (rehab) equipment,’’ she joked.

Last fall, she took a part-time job as assistant director of the Twin City association and volunteered to coach, an experience she said she loved.

“I think that we, as law students, have a lot of great assets and when we get here to law school, we get so narrowed in on the coursework and academics that we lose time to do all the wonderful things we used to do before,’’ she said. “ This fall, I just made the decision that I wanted to get back to doing those things that I enjoy.  One of those things was being around soccer and coaching a team.  My favorite part of coaching is the impact I can have on a child.”

At a recent practice, Turnage greeted her girls with hugs as they arrived, before running them through a series of drills. She and her assistant coach, Katie King, a second-year Wake law student, constantly shouted out encouragement and praise.

Volunteering for a cause 

Turnage, who wants to be a litigator with an eye on prosecuting, said she got into coaching as a way to stay involved in the game.

One of her other special volunteer efforts is in her hometown of Wilson, where she helps every year to organize and run The Brittany Willis Memorial Scholarship Soccer Showcase, an event commonly known as The Brittany. It’s the largest high school soccer event in North Carolina, with boys’ teams playing in the fall and girls’ teams in the spring. This year’s showcase will be April 8-9 at the Gillette Complex in Wilson.

There, high school teams get the chance to compete against other quality teams.

The event hits home for Turnage because she went to school with Willis, who was kidnapped at age 17 from a Wilson shopping center, and raped and killed. Three men were later convicted in connection with the murder.

For Turnage, the best part of the event is handing out the sportsmanship award at the end to a player who exemplifies the spirit of Willis. The winner receives a jersey with No. 18, the number worn by Willis.

As an event, Turnage said, The Brittany brings joy out of a tragedy.

“It’s really cool because the whole community comes together for it.’’

And for Turnage, being part of a community is critical.

“I know that for me, an aspiring prosecutor, the community is my client,’’ she said. “ Volunteering and being involved in the community is how you get to know (people) and that enables you to work on their behalf, so for me it’s of paramount importance.”