When Yukon senior Vernon Turner walks out of Miller Stadium on Saturday, he will undoubtedly be one of the most decorated high school athletes in not only school history, but state history.
Turner is nearly a lock to win his third-consecutive high-jump state championship but he is aiming much higher than being the best all-time in Oklahoma. He already has accomplished that goal.
His goal Saturday is to become the national record-holder in the high-jump competition at the high school level.
The current record is 7-feet, 7-inches and Turner’s highest jump this year, which also is the highest jump of his career is 7-feet, 6-inches. He is ranked No. 1 in the country among all high school high-jumpers.
The University of Oklahoma signee said his goal is not just to beat the national record of 7-feet, 7-inches but to clear 7-feet, 8-inches.
Just to give you an idea of where that ranks internationally, the world record is 7-feet, 9-inches.
“I know the record is 7-feet-7 inches, but I want to get 7-feet-8 inches,” Turner said. “I believe I can do it, so that’s my goal for Saturday.”
Turner has transcended high school sports in Yukon and across Oklahoma. It’s not often that a single athlete can put a community on the map, but that’s exactly what Turner has done in his time at Yukon High School with his performances with the Yukon track team.
However, track hasn’t always been the No. 1 priority for the Yukon senior.
He was a part of his middle school track team but said he never took it seriously. Turner said he mainly did it because he was fast. He did not compete in any jumping competitions at the middle school level, only the sprint races.
Going into his freshman year at YHS, Turner was all about playing basketball. He played on the Adidas Circuit and traveled with his select team throughout the country to compete in high-level tournaments.
Yukon assistant basketball coach and track jumping coach Kevin Ritter saw Turner play basketball as a ninth-grade student and decided to try and recruit Turner to the high school track team.
“A lot of basketball players can jump, but the way he could jump off of one foot when he was shooting layups and with how fast he was, I had a good feeling he would be able to flourish in track,” Ritter said.
At first, Turner was hesitant because he wanted to focus his time on the basketball court, but decided to give track a chance in the spring of his freshman year.
His first couple of competitive jumps were not exactly show-stoppers, Ritter said.
But, he saw potential.
“I just remember thinking to myself that I couldn’t wait to get to work with this kid,” Ritter said. “He had all of the tools you need to be successful.”
Turner rapidly improved and when the state track meet rolled around, he took fourth-place as a freshman with a jump of 6-feet, 2-inches.
While Turner seemed to have a bright future ahead of him as a high-jump star in the making, his main focus remained on basketball. He said going into his sophomore year, he had not planned on doing track again. He wanted to focus all of his time and attention on basketball in hopes of earning a hoop’s scholarship.
The Yukon track coaches pleaded with Turner throughout the year to return to track. Turner stayed focused on basketball and continued playing for his travel team.
Finally, Turner agreed to compete in several track meets in the spring of his sophomore year.
He returned home from several basketball tournaments just as regional and state time was beginning for track.
Turner decided to compete in the high-jump competition in the regional and state meets. He jumped 6-feet, 8-inches at the 6A state meet, which won him the state championship with little practice.
It was at that point, Turner said he realized that he could actually do track in college and needed to focus a lot more on his high-jumping abilities.
“I started to have a lot of fun with it after that,” Turner said. “Winning a state championship was a great feeling, and I started to actually think I could do this at the next level.”
Turner continued to play basketball for Yukon High School but he also was intensely focused on improving in the high-jump. That’s when the high-flyer really began to take off.
During his junior year, while the Yukon track team was competing in the Carl Albert Track Meet, Turner cleared 7-feet for the first time. Ritter said after his young high-jump phenom cleared the 7-foot bar, he knew his rising star had a special future ahead of him.
“I remember going up to him and telling him that not a lot of people in the country can clear 7-feet and he made it look easy,” Ritter said. “It came so natural to him.”
Turner continued to improve throughout his junior year and at the regional track meet, he cleared 7-feet, 4-inches for the first time. At the state meet, he won his second-consecutive state title with a jump of 7-feet, 4 1/2-inches and all of the sudden, he was the No. 1 ranked high school high-jumper in the nation.
“When he cleared 7-feet, 4-inches, I knew we had something even more special than we originally thought,” Ritter said. “That put up him there at the Olympic Trial level.”
Going into his senior year, as expected, Turner was being recruited by nearly every major college in the country with a track team. Turner decided to stay close to home and close to his family. He signed with the University of Oklahoma.
If he continues to jump at his current level, Turner will have a great chance to win eight national championships at OU in the indoor and outdoor track seasons. On top of winning conference and national championships at the collegiate level, the 6-foot-3 superstar has a great chance to be on the high-jump team for the U.S. Olympic team in the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“He’s a once in a lifetime-type of athlete,” said Yukon head boys track coach Matt Parent. “The thing about Vernon is no matter what you are doing, whether it be playing chess or checkers, if he wants to beat you, he’s going to find a way to beat you. He has a great competitive nature.”
As his popularity has increased as the height of his jumps have increased, Turner has had to deal with being a superstar athlete at the high school level in Oklahoma, but the Yukon coaching staff has never had to worry about the attention getting to the young athlete.
“We’ve never worried about that,” Ritter said. “He has never let it get to his head. It’s pretty incredible for a kid his age to deal with this type of attention as well as he has. He likes big crowds and likes the crowds to get behind him when he’s jumping but he has never let it all get to his head. When I got into coaching, I never thought I would be coaching a young man like this. I still have trouble wrapping my head around what he’s doing and how he’s handling it.”
Turner said in a couple of years when he looks back on his time and his career at Yukon, he will remember all of the great experiences he had with his friends, all of the people and his teammates and coaches.
“I’m just always going to remember my teammates, coaches and friends,” Turner said. “And hopefully, I’ll be able to look back and remember becoming the all-time record holder and doing it at the state meet my senior year.”
Turner is expected to begin jumping at 11 a.m. Saturday at the 6A state track meet at Miller Stadium.