PJ McKinney by now probably knows every piece of parquet in the Newark High School gymnasium.
The 44-year-old Newark native has been an assistant coach for the school’s state championship volleyball team since 2009.
Long before those days, McKinney’s grandfather was the high school janitor for 30 years.
“When I was little, he would have to clean up the gym,” McKinney recalled. “I would go there when nobody was there, play around in the gym, I was like six or seven years old.”
McKinney, then, sure seems the perfect fit for his next position.
An athletic director and coach at Lisbon Grade School and member of Aurora Christian’s 1995 Class A state runner-up basketball team who has worn many coaching hats in a 21-year career, McKinney has been named the new girls basketball coach at Newark.
McKinney replaces Barb Scott, who stepped down as head coach after six seasons.
“I’m excited for the challenge,” said McKinney, who lives in Yorkville with his wife and three daughters ages 10, 7 and 5. “A few years ago coaches like [Newark volleyball coach] Tonya [Grayson] and others encouraged me to go after the challenge. I thought it was time to get in the high school game. I always wanted to be at the high school level, whether it was here or somewhere else. It could not be at a better place.”
McKinney grew up in Newark, and went to school in town until the fifth grade, when his mom got a job at Aurora Christian. After graduating from Aurora Christian he played basketball at Waubonsee Community College for two years, and then for two years at Judson.
He went to St. Edward in Elgin out of college, where he coached from 1999-2005, starting the boys volleyball program there and serving as assistant coach for the boys basketball and girls volleyball programs. From there he was a sophomore boys basketball coach at Marmion for a year and has been at Lisbon Grade School as AD, physical education teacher, boys basketball and track coach ever since. Next year will be his 14th school year there.
McKinney’s been assistant volleyball coach at Newark since 2009, on the bench for the Lady Norsemen’s state championships in 2018 and 2019.
McKinney said his first kindergarten at Lisbon was Madi Malone and this year’s senior class.
“It’s a special thing to be able to get to know a lot of the girls and their families. I’ve been around the girls and the community for 15 years; Newark is a cool and special place that prides itself a lot on its athletics and academics too,” McKinney said. “They are very supportive from the administration to the PTO and the boosters and the community. It is a special place and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
McKinney has spent his first days on the job working to get into a summer league at Plano; one or two ADs have contacted him about getting into a summer shootout, and he’d like to get in at least one.
“As soon as I can I’m going to meet with the girls,” he said. “A lot of them are doing softball and track, so it’s tricky to get together but we’ll make it work. We’ll try to get in the gym because then by mid June they’re doing volleyball. I’d like to get in the gym and see where they’re at.”