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Great Coach Will Be Sorely Missed

The late Lee McKinney did a great deal for basketball and athletics at Fontbonne University in Clayton.

I knew Lee McKinney intimately. We all knew Lee McKinney well.

I am deeply saddened by the death of this wonderful father, grandfather, husband, coach and athletic director.

Lee was the personification of good sportsmanship. He cared about the athletes and their lives a lot more than he did the Ws in the score book. He built Fontbonne’s athletic program from the bench up.

I never met a single person in my entire professional sports writing career who had a solitary bad word to say about . And why would they? His attitude was 100 percent positive, 100 percent of the time. He was everybody's friend—all the time.

Not so long ago, his son Dino was one of the basketball coaches at Ladue High. I always wondered where Dino’s career was taking him in basketball.

Lee was a battler. He had several forms of debilitating cancer yet fought the good fight right up until the end. He had numerous setbacks but never gave in to the insidious disease. He brought so much grace and prestige to the local Coaches vs Cancer effort in St. Louis and the region. His contributions were unparalleled.

Lee cared a great deal about high school athletics and athletes. I don’t think he saw a spit of difference between high school or college players. They were one and the same to him.

Technically, he was an excellent coach. He knew the Xs and Os of the game. He was a friend to everyone in the business. No one was closer to the battler Lee than his buddy down the road, Mizzou’s revered and legendary coach Norm Stewart. When Norm was diagnosed with cancer, Lee was one of the first to stand tall by his side.

The person who said there isn’t a funeral home in St. Louis big enough to hold all his admirers, family and friends was right on. Lee was a friend to everyone. He always had time to stop and talk, especially when it came to his favorite subject-basketball.

When I think of Lee, I think of those who were around during his best decades. That would be his son Dino, Dennis Beckett, Norm Stewart, Rich Grawer, Dale Burgmann, Rich Dailey, Larry Jacobs, Bob Nelson, Phil Noser, Randy Albrecht, Bill Shapiro, Floyd Irons, Bob Murray, Bob BenBen, the late Ed Crenshaw, Dennis Kruse, Mike Pratt—shall I go on? He bridged the gap from the old war-horse coaches to the modern-era ones.

We will all miss Coach McKinney. He did so much to popularize the game of basketball and brought so much focus and attention to his favorite sport. High schools are constantly having games and tournaments in the Fontbonne gym, in no small part because of the urging of Lee.

Every time I step inside the gymnasium at Fontbonne, I'll flash back to fond memories of Coach McKinney. Maybe the leaders of the school will rededicate the building in his honor. They ought to. He put Fontbonne’s athletic program on the map for good.

Editor's note: This piece first appeared as an installment of the Ladue-Frontenac Patch column The Baer Facts. Jim Baer is the website's editor.

Peter McKeown April 06, 2011 at 01:49 AM
Excellent tribute, Jim. This was very sad to hear, and it's refreshing to hear your take on a man you knew well. I met Lee my one and only time this past winter when tasked to write a profile about him, and can say the meeting had a profound affect on me. His courage and strength I had read about was beyond impressive, but it was his amicable demeanor and conversation I will remember. What started as a nervous interview, ended as a fun and engaging talk; all while he was coaching his basketball team with a chemotherapy tube pumping into his body. A class act...I feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity to meet him.

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