The first player to ever score a goal in Bearette soccer history, McKinney returned to her alma mater after college as an assistant coach and became head coach in 2001. She gave up the reins in May of 2011, when she and daughter, Lauren, moved to Montana, where husband, James, was a ranger at Glacier National Park.
After McKinney coached the Glacier High School team that fall, the family moved back to Cleveland when the park closed for the winter, and she returned to her teaching position at BCHS.
In her absence, the school hired former Lee University standout Tiffany Walker to guide the program, but with her husband landing the head coaching job at the University of North Alabama earlier this year, BCHS athletic director Turner Jackson tabbed McKinney to take back over the program she had been a part of for 17 years.
“I’ve supported the program from the stands the last couple of years, but I’m ready to get back at it,” McKinney said earlier this week. “Tiffany (Walker) did a great job of moving the program forward.”
Feeling a “renewed energy,” McKinney is also bringing with her a secret weapon — all-time Bearette leading scorer Savannah (Neely) Edwards.
A four-year starter under McKinney’s tutelage, Edwards netted 111 goals while wearing the Black-and-Gold before going to play for Coach Matt Yelton’s national champion Lady Flames.
“Having her as a player and a (two year) captain, we already have a relationship that should benefit the program,” declared McKinney, who also played collegiate soccer for Lee. “She will be able to share her playing experience here and beyond with the girls.”
“I have always wanted to coach. My experience and love for the game I’ve played all my life is something I hope to be able to pass on to our players,” related Edwards, who has gotten married, had a baby and helped coach the Lake Forest Middle School team since graduating Lee.
The transition will be made easier since the upcoming Bearette seniors played for McKinney as freshmen, while other played for Edwards at Lake Forest.
“We have a really good group of athletes who have been working hard in the off season,” McKinney remarked. “We have a half dozen girls playing club/select ball. We met with the girls at Lake Forest recently and expect eight or so of them to come try out for the team.”
Tryouts will be held July 8-9.
“We will also be holding our kids camp in June (3-5) to hopefully train up some future Bearettes,” she added. “We will take our team to the UTK (University of Tennessee at Knoxville) camp this summer to help get ready for the season.”
The TSSAA high school season will begin Aug. 19. McKinney led her Bearette squads to District 5-AAA runner-up finishes and region tournament berths in 2004 and again in 2005. From 2007-10, she also coached the Bears program in the spring but gave up the boys’ duties a year before making the move to Montana.
“It’s a lot easier being able to concentrate on just one team,” she related. “When you have both, you are trying to coach one during its season, while you have to get the other one doing their off season training to get ready for the next season. It is very time consuming to try to do both.”
Tucker Blackmon, who served as McKinney’s assistant for a few years, took over as head coach of the Bear program in 2010.