The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District, along with the Section II swimming and diving community, are mourning the death of long-time social studies teacher and coach Matt Turner.
The news of Turner’s death Friday night at Ellis Hospital reached the Shenendehowa Aquatics Center Saturday morning, where the day’s Suburban Council championships had already started. The in-progress event was then postponed before seven of the league’s teams, including Burnt Hills, participated in the championships, which were using staggered start times because of restrictions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
No cause of death was immediately available for Turner, who coached the Burnt Hills boys’ swimming and diving team as well as the Burnt Hills/Scotia girls’ team. A statement released Saturday on the Burnt Hills school district’s website noted that the “Saratoga County Department of Health informed the district that it has been established Mr. Turner was negative for COVID-19 through Ellis Hospital’s testing.”
Turner was 47 years old.
As an educator, Turner spent more than 20 years in the Burnt Hills school district and is remembered as an ardent advocate for expanding learning opportunities for his students as well as his own focus on knowledge.
“Matt was a good friend and a long-time colleague,” Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School Principal Tim Brunson said. “Matt has all kinds of connections with kids. He took over part of our AP Social Studies program, AP Word and AP European, and did a lot of traveling with students, all over Europe, with countless numbers of our students.”
Turner was the head of CIVITAS, the Burnt Hills history/debate club. Each year, he took a group of students to Washington, D.C. in the spring.
His own education goals never ceased. Brunson said Turner “pursued his national board certification, he was constantly taking graduate classes and attending summer forums.”
Burnt Hills athletic director Joe Scalise met with parents and members of both the boys’ and girls’ swim teams on Saturday.
“We thought it was important to do that. They leaned on each other,” Scalise said. “My heart goes out to the family. It’s shocking, it’s sad. He was a fantastic person for our school district.”
Burnt Hills’ school statement included that “there will be counseling services available for both students and staff this weekend virtually and all day on Monday, March 1, 2021 in the Wellness Center and Library Media Center.”
Schenectady swimming coach and Section II boys’ swimming coordinator Brian Melanson knew Turner for more than 20 years, after first working together at Schenectady Central Park Middle School. Their friendship continued after Turner transferred to the Burnt Hills school district and began his own coaching career.
“The Burnt Hills Cafe was one of the places he loved to go. It was like his second home,” Melanson said. “We would go there and have meetings and talk about boys’ and girls’ swimming.”
Kim Murray, the Section II girls’ swimming coordinator who coaches at Shaker, was stunned by the news of Turner’s death.
“I feel like ‘shocked’ is the word of the day,” Murray said. “Anybody in this area who has an experience with swimming knows Matt Turner. He’s been coaching for 20-plus years and he’s been one of the most consistent leaders in swimming for that duration.”
Murray said Turner championed the swimming scholar-athlete recognition program, an award presented at each girls’ and boys’ Section II meet recognizing one swimmer for his or her efforts in the classroom and in the pool.
“That’s one of the marks he left — not just in the section, but also at the state level,” Murray said. “People across New York state knew who Matt Turner was because any time there was any type of scholar-athlete application at the state level for girls’ swimming, he was in charge of it.”
Turner was a recognized as a competitive coach, but with his own style, admired by Murray.
“It really stinks that we say this after he’s gone, but he really was the guy who got along with everybody.”
Kristen [Schadow] Hatt swam for Turner during his first four years as the Burnt Hills girls’ varsity swimming coach.
“He’s just so young and had so much more left to give. It is completely heartbreaking,” said Hatt, a 2005 Burnt Hills graduate. “I remember him being very positive and very motivational as a coach for me.”
Hatt was part of the Spartans 2004 Section II champion 200-yard medley relay and 400-freestyle relay squad with co-captain Dani [Stein] Roberts. Hatt then swam for three years at Springfield College.
“I was very nervous before races. He was always there for me, and reassured me in being confident and knowing what you can do for yourself,” Hatt said. “As a young girl, he always gave me that reassurance that you can do this.”
Melanson and Brunson both said they remembered Turner’s dry sense of humor. Brunson remarked Saturday how it amused him how Turner used “swimmingly” in his emails.
“‘Swimmingly, Matt Turner’ was his sign-off,” Brunson said. “You can hear his voice [saying it].
“Nobody else in the building gets away with signing their emails ‘swimmingly.’”