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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016

Former coach's heart still in the game

Monday, September 20, 2004

Former Portageville coach Jim McKay talks with a player during a game from 2002.
(File photo)
PORTAGEVILLE - Jim McKay has walked away from the sidelines but hearing him talk you know his heart is still in the game.

"I've coached about everything - football, basketball, track, girls teams, boys teams. I've enjoyed all the coaching," he said.

Today, he is watching the games from the bleachers, but he grins and admits there are times he can't help but wonder what call he would make. After 40 years in the game though, it is easy to understand.

McKay began coaching in Portageville in 1964. First working as the B Team basketball coach and junior high school football coach, he was named head coach for the Portageville Bulldogs in 1967.

Describing himself as a "hands-on coach," McKay said he enjoyed getting in the huddle with the athletes as they worked on the fundamentals of the game. And over the years, he said, the best part of his job was getting the opportunity to work with so many young people.

"Here at Portageville we are blessed with really good kids. They worked hard and didn't complain. They were a lot of fun to work with," he said. By the time he retired from coaching, McKay pointed out, he was not only coaching the sons of young men he coached decades earlier but his assistant coaches were once his students as well.

While some people might be surprised to hear him say it McKay emphasized the athletes today are just like those of his early coaching days. "We did have to start doing more physical conditioning but as far as attitude, I think kids are still basically the same. The kids I dealt with wanted discipline, they knew they had to work hard after all there is a pride and tradition to uphold here in Portageville."

With 140-85 win-loss record, McKay hesitated picking one game as a highlight of his career. There were some that stand out, he said, like the Caruthersville-Portageville title game where "we beat them on two or three spectacular plays."

And there was the memorable game against Scott City. The game went into overtime and Portageville lost when held by Scott City at the six-inch line.

"The thing about that one was one of our spectators was on the goal line watching and he fell dead right then," recalled McKay. "They revived him and he had a heart transplant and lived another 20 years but his son was playing tight end and it happened right in front of him. That is one game that is hard to forget."

Always quick to praise the young athletes he worked with over the years, McKay also lavished praise on his assistants and even the opposing coaches. "The camaraderie you build with the assistants and the other coaches that is what makes this enjoyable. We all know we are in same job - you like to be able to beat them, that is competitive spirit - but you also develop close friendships."

Also praised by McKay was his wife. "For years and years I coached three sports. My wife she did lot of the kid-raising while I was coaching," he said. "But I enjoyed it. It has been my life and there wasn't a day that I dreaded going to work."

Over the years, McKay's career would take him in and out of coaching various sports and in and out of various classrooms and administrative posts. He even coached for a while at Hayti, returning to Portageville and finally closing out his career at the end of the 2003 football season.

The years took their toll. In his last season as Portageville's head coach, McKay's knee was in need of replacement and at the games and at practice he used a golf cart to get around.

"I think I finally came to realize it was time to get out and let the young guys take over," he said. The team is now headed up by head coach Ashley Swims and assistants, Eric Ellerbrook and Travis Scherer, all former players for McKay.

Swims acknowledged he has big shoes to fill as the new head coach but said what he learned from McKay, he is now putting to use. "He knew everything about football. Pretty much everything he taught me, I teach them now. I use the same terminology, everything," said Swims.

And, he continued, McKay instilled a confidence in him and his assistants that they could do the job. Calling his former coach "a legend," Swims added, "He is not just good coach, he is a good person and a good friend."

While he has given up coaching, McKay wasn't about to give up the school district he loved. In 2003 he was elected to the Portageville School Board.

"I've taught everything and been in administration. I've dealt with school in about every direction so I thought with that experience I could help the board look at a situation in the direction that I have seen," he said about his new role.

But he still wanders back to the practice field, keeping his distance as the coaches work with the team. Advice is only offered when requested, he said.

"I appreciated all the years of getting to work with the kids and the support that the students, their parents, the administration gave me," he said. "If my legs could get me around I would coach until the day I die because I enjoy it so."