CMS Athletic Director Ericia Turner’s Game Plan for Success

By Angela Lindsay

Ericia Turner became the first Black woman to be named executive director of athletics for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools in August 2021, following the retirement of Sue Doran. It isn’t a position she sought out, but ultimately, she wanted to utilize her passion for sports and education to “enhance athletic programs and provide opportunities for student athletes to excel both on and off the field.” 

“When the opportunity presented itself, I took advantage of it. Great opportunities are not always easy to come by. I believe that when you have one in front of you, seize it with enthusiasm, determination, and a willingness to learn and grow,” she said.

The significance of her history-making role isn’t lost on Turner, and she views the opportunity as an avenue for opening doors for others.

“Being the first and only Black woman to hold any position is a significant achievement and a source of inspiration to others. It represents breaking barriers and challenging societal norms and expectations. In addition, it carries a sense of responsibility,” Turner said. “It means being a role model and advocate for diversity and inclusion. It means using your platform to amplify marginalized voices and promote equal opportunities for all. Most importantly, it provides an opportunity to bring about positive change and influence policies and practices.”

The Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, native has experienced her own share of learning and growing along a journey fraught with change. Being both Black and female, she says, meant that she had to navigate additional barriers related to gender inequality and racial discrimination simultaneously.

“Black women have historically been underrepresented in leadership positions within athletic administration. This limits opportunities for advancement and influence within the field,” she says. “Personally, early in my career, I dealt with a pay and compensation disparity. This ultimately had to be settled in court….in my favor!” 

Turner spent a total of 10 years in the classroom in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) systems, including Independence and Mallard Creek high schools. She taught health and physical education and coaching before she transitioned into school administration in 2009, serving as an assistant principal/athletic director at Newton-Conover High School.

In 2012, she became the first director of athletics for the Alamance-Burlington School System. Due to family concerns, she moved back home and became an administrator in the Iredell-Statesville School System where she served as assistant principal at Statesville High School and then principal at Statesville Middle School from 2014-2016. She returned to CMS as principal at Rocky River High School from 2016-2021 and was named Principal of the Year in 2020.

“Balancing work responsibilities with personal and family commitments was a challenge for me,” she said. “I’m a single mom with two children. The demanding nature of education and athletics coupled with societal expectations created additional pressures for me.”

Adding to her difficulties, Turner lost her -5-month-old son to sudden infant death syndrome while at daycare in May 2000. It was a traumatic experience that changed the trajectory of her personal and professional life a journey up through the ranks of the field of athletics that began at an early age.

Turner was introduced to sports — cheerleading first, then basketball and softball — when she was 5 years old. A fan of football as well, she grew up as a Dallas Cowboys fan. As a 6-foot-tall freshman, she played basketball at Bandys High School in Catawba, winning two consecutive state championships as a center on the team.

She would go on to play for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (her favorite college team) on a basketball scholarship before transferring to North Carolina A&T State University where she earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in physical education. After graduation, she began her first teaching job at Parkland High School in Winston Salem, where she coached the girls’ basketball team as well. 

While there, she was also tapped by the Parkland football coach to work as the wide receivers coach for the football team for a year. She later earned an Ed.S. in education administration from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. An elite athlete herself, participating in sports taught Turner more than just how to play the game.

Turner said basketball has provided her with many opportunities for personal growth and empowerment. “It has played a crucial role in shaping my identity and self-confidence. Through playing basketball, I discovered my own strength, resilience, and determination, which has translated into other aspects of my life, she said.

“It has also fostered a sense of camaraderie and community. I’ve formed lifelong friendships with teammates and coaches who share my passion. These connections transcend race and background, creating a support system that extends beyond the basketball court.” 

Turner’s goals aim to promote the importance of education and overall by: fostering leadership development through programs and initiatives that encourage and support the development of 0student athletes; improving athlete welfare by prioritizing the well-being and safety of athletes; implementing strategies that address mental health, physical well-being, and overall athlete development and other efforts.

These are some of the same approaches she’s used to overcome the hurdles faced along her own path.

“I intentionally seek out professional organizations and networking groups that specifically support African American women in leadership and athletic administration. I continuously invest in my professional development to enhance my skills and knowledge,” she said.

Turner also actively seeks opportunities for career growth, mentorship, and coaching to further develop her leadership abilities and advises others to “embrace your unique perspective and use it as a source of strength and inspiration.” 

“Your presence can serve as a representation of diversity and inclusion, and you have the opportunity to contribute valuable insights and perspectives to the conversation.” This is advice she has clearly followed herself.

“I’ve learned to embrace the value that I bring to the table,” Turner said. “I am no longer trying to prove my worth to people. I believe the more I try to prove my worth, I devalue myself. I believe in myself and my capabilities.”