On April 4, one of the most influential persons in Division III college basketball history died. Lee McKinney, the long-time athletics director and men’s basketball coach at Fontbonne University, was battling cancer for the third time in his life when he passed away at the age of 75.
McKinney was a legend at Fontbonne and within the St. Louis community, and his impact on Webster athletics shouldn’t go unnoticed. McKinney was a key factor in the SLIAC’s establishment in 1990, the year the conference began play. The conference remains stable today.
Webster and Fontbonne have developed one of the strongest rivalries within the conference, and McKinney’s solid basketball program had a lot to do with that. Without McKinney’s work in the SLIAC’s infancy, who knows if Webster and Fontbonne would have the type of rivalry they do.
McKinney will be remembered for several accomplishments, and here’s just a taste of what he achieved in his life:
• McKinney coached 1,425 games in a row without missing a single one. That’s a span of 52 years. He was unable to coach Fontbonne’s last three games this past season, and he officially resigned from his coaching post on Feb. 22. But that does little to take away from his unrivaled longevity.
• McKinney overcame cancer twice in his lifetime. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1996 and with metastic colon cancer in 2002. The cancer came back a third time in July of 2010, and caused McKinney to lose 50 pounds in eight months. He persevered.
• McKinney was set to receive the National Association of Basketball Coaches Outstanding Service Award on April 2. The prestigious award is given to coaches who have distinguished themselves as valuable members of their communities. With McKinney not being able to attend the ceremony, his three children accepted the award on his behalf.
McKinney told me that earning the NABC award was the greatest achievement of his life. The award was a culmination of all the hard work and dedication that McKinney put forth on and off the basketball court.
I’ll never forget the conversation I was fortunate enough to have with McKinney. I interviewed McKinney a little more than a month ago for a story that was published in a March issue of The Journal.
McKinney came across as caring, smart and strong. It was obvious in talking to him that the cancer was taking its toll, but everyone who was close to McKinney knew he would continue to fight.
McKinney has touched more lives than can be counted. Several people who I talked to for The Journal story called McKinney a father figure and a best friend.
So, as the Fontbonne community and all who knew McKinney grieve, please say a prayer for McKinney’s family and friends. Coach Lee McKinney, you will be missed.
And never forgotten.