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  1. Sports
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  3. HomeTeam

Land O’ Lakes’ Callie Turner grooms next generation of aces

The Tennessee commit, already one of the top pitchers in the nation, has a knack for passing on her skills.
Land O' Lakes senior pitcher Callie Turner works with AJ Petersen, 10, during a pitching lesson April 18. Turner, who has signed with the University of Tennessee, gives lessons to dozens of girls from the Land O Lakes-Wesley Chapel area. (SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times)

LAND O’ LAKES — A.J. Petersen swings her arm in a complete circle before hurling a pitch.

The 10 year old then stares in awe at her instructor — and idol.

Land O’Lakes High softball ace Callie Turner begins her lesson. She individually tailors her tutelage to each student. An oversized garage becomes Turner’s classroom.

With each throw, Turner observes Petersen’s delivery. The University of Tennessee signee checks on the mechanics, such as where Petersen positions her head, hips and feet once the softball leaves the youngster’s hand.

Petersen listens intently to the advice.

Turner typically gets her pupils to respond because of the way she conveys the information. Rather than take a businesslike approach, Turner offers a personal touch. She jokes with them. She tells stories, owning up to her own flaws.

“I like Callie,” Petersen said. “She’s funny and is always finding ways to help me. She is always happy, too.”

Petersen’s family spends $50 for each hour-long lesson. (Turner also charges $25 for a half-hour). There are plenty of parents willing to pay so their daughters can learn from one of the best players in the area — and nation.

Pitching lessons are a booming cottage industry. Nearly a dozen instructors — mostly former area standouts now out of college — offer sessions for aspiring aces of all ages. All are reaching the max with customers.

Turner, who leads the No. 1 seeded Gators (20-5) into the Class 6A, District 7 tournament starting today, stands out. She might be the only local high school player doing this as a part-time job.

The idea came in October 2017, five months after Turner led the Gators to their first state title. An assistant coach suggested she give lessons on the side.

At first, Turner resisted.

“I really didn’t know if I would like kids,” Turner said. “Mostly I was unsure because I didn’t how to connect or where to start. I just winged it starting out and kept finding things that worked and adding on to that.”

Her clientele initially included four girls. Turner had positive results, resulting in plenty of referrals. Last summer, she had 12 students. In the fall, it grew to 25.

Turner spent up to five hours instructing eight girls per night, three times a week. The volume of customers made for a lucrative business (up to $1,250 per week).

Land O' Lakes senior pitcher Callie Turner works with AJ Petersen, 10, during a pitching lesson. (SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times)

But the time invested became too much.

Once high school season started in February, Turner cut back, tutoring just a handful of girls who live in Land O’Lakes.

“I also wanted to pull back a little because last year I felt guilty when we didn’t win a state title (the Gators were runners-up),” Turner said. “I felt like the lessons were maybe a distraction from what I really needed to go out there and do for the team to reach its ultimate goal.”

But her girls are more than just clients. They are among Turner’s biggest fans.

When Turner had her college signing ceremony in November, more than a dozen showed up, including Petersen, who sported an orange and white shirt with “Callie’s Cutie” printed on the front.

One of Petersen’s favorite Christmas gifts is a foam Tennessee pennant signed by Turner.

Many of Turner’s students also attend Land O’Lakes games. She greets them afterward, posing for group photos.

But her part-time job ends soon.

Turner made the roster for the USA Softball U-19 junior women’s national training team. She competes June 10 through Aug. 17. Days later, Turner starts her college career with the Vols.

“I’ve already had to break it to the girls that they need to start looking elsewhere for lessons,” she said.

Petersen took the news hard.

“It’s sad,” she said. “I’m going to miss her a lot.”

At the end of last week’s lesson, Turner gave Petersen positive affirmations. They high-fived before parting.

Petersen’s parents are planning a trip to see Turner play next season in college.

“Everyone feels comfortable with Callie,” said Jill Petersen, A.J.’s mother. “She just gets the kids. And they all absolutely love her.

“She’s a superstar in their eyes.”

Class 6A-7 at Land O’Lakes

Monday: No. 4 Pasco vs. No. 5 Zephyrhills, 5; No. 3 Wesley Chapel vs. No. 6 Anclote, 7

Tuesday: No. 2 River Ridge vs. Chapel-Anclote winner, 5; No. 1 Land O’ Lakes vs. Pasco-Zephyrhills winner, 7

Wednesday: Final, 7

Contact Bob Putnam at bputnam@tampabay.com. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.

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