2018-01-10 / Local

Keeping track of the numbers

By Jeff Valcher
Wilson County News

Poth track and cross-country coach Joe McKinney is now in his 20th year at the helm of both the track and field and cross-country teams. 
JEFF VALCHER/Reprints at Poth track and cross-country coach Joe McKinney is now in his 20th year at the helm of both the track and field and cross-country teams. JEFF VALCHER/Reprints at “I’m a numbers guy,” said self-professed “track nerd” Joe McKinney, Poth’s track and crosscountry coach for the past 20 years.

Friends at nearby school districts would often call to ask him about certain athletes, because they knew he had already taken a look at their stats. Off the clock, fantasy football was a favored pastime, and, in the 1980s when he first started, it was a much more serious commitment.

“We had to calculate numbers ourselves,” he remembered. “Now you get on the Internet and you get your teams picked almost randomly for you.”

His first experience on the track came as a sprinter growing up in Menard, Texas — a similar-sized town to Poth — from where he graduated in 1984.

He attended Howard Payne University in Brownwood after that, where he earned his degree in physical education, with a minor in mathematics. His first job out of school came unexpectedly.

“Back then we didn’t have Internet,” he remembered. “We just got a listing from the business office.”

However, it was the Industrial school district that ended up contacting him — a school he had crossed off his list because he’d never heard of it.

“My whole career has been mapped out, wherever God wanted me to go,” McKinney said of the experience. “I couldn’t imagine a better place to start off.”

Initially a junior high coach, he soon took over the cross-country and track and field programs, while also teaching junior high math.

After eight years at Industrial, McKinney resigned and began looking for a new position. He was sitting in the stands at that year’s State track meet, when he found himself talking with Jerry Bonewald — Poth’s athletic director at the time. It turned out he was hoping to build up his school’s track and field program.

“He just turned the track stuff over to me,” McKinney said.

It was difficult to build interest among the high school athletes when he arrived. His first varsity team in 1999 consisted of one boy and eight girls on an old cinder track, so he made sure to put a lot of focus into the junior high kids, as well. Even today, he tries to identify talent as early as possible.

“When I’m walking through the elementary school, and I see second-graders, I’m thinking, ‘That kid’s a high jumper,’” he said.

While track participation in Poth has evened out over the years, the cross-country roster hasn’t always followed suit.

“Cross country this past year had zero girls,” McKinney said. “A couple years ago we were Regional champions.”

This is a coach who has seen his fair share of champions over the years — some so laden with talent that he decided “I’m just going to make sure you get to the meet,” and others for whom the improvement process was more gradual.

He estimated that during at least 17 out of the 19 years he has been in Poth, someone has gone to State. But while that may make someone look like a great coach, he said, it’s seeing an athlete perform well — that gradual improvement in the numbers — that matters most to him.

“I like being that guy — I hope I’m that guy — that shows that enthusiasm to both kids,” McKinney said. “Not just the State qualifier, but this kid over here who got sixth in the JV, but he still got a personal best.”

Fun Facts

Favorite movie? “Braveheart.”

Why? I like the time period first of all. It’s in Scotland, and I’m a McKinney. It’s a great story.

Favorite food? Homemade ice cream.

Flavor? I’m pretty flexible on that. I like going to the church’s homemade ice cream contest and getting to try all of those.

Wife’s name? Becky.

How long have you been married? In August it will be 29 years.

Kids? Josh is 24, going to college in San Antonio. Keely is 22, and goes to Howard Payne. Caleb is my junior, he just turned 17. Kiera is 11.

What professional teams do you keep up with? My favorite football team is the Minnesota Vikings. Has been since I was in the fifth grade. Only reason I can think of why is because my brother liked them at the time. Then you start learning about them ... Basketball-wise, Spurs. I just think that’s the classiest organization in sports. They just try to win, and they do it the right way.

Athlete you admire and why? Haile Gebrselassie. He’s a marathon runner from Ethiopia. He came from nothing. He would have to run to school, 6 to 10 miles, and if he was late getting there they would beat him. Then he would have to run home and do his chores, and if he was late there his daddy would beat him. He learned to run. Kids think they have it rough when they have to get up at 5 in the morning.

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