For the first time ever, a cross country athlete from Houston High School has earned a college scholarship.

During a ceremony last Saturday in the new HHS gym, senior Hunter McKinney signed paperwork to join the men’s team at College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout.

“It feels really good,” McKinney said. “Everything I went through to get to this point was worth it.”

C of O competes as an independent in the National Christian College Athletic Association. The school’s cross country program is run by head coach Clint Woods.

HHS senior Hunter McKinney closes in on the finish line during a cross country meet last September at the Thomas F. Benyo Municipal Golf Course at Willow Springs. EMILY HONEYCUTT | HOUSTON HERALD

“Hunter is a perfect fit for C of O,” Woods said. “We’re always looking for kids who are humble, ready for competition and people-smart, looking to invest in others, and that’s what we see in Hunter. No matter what we do in cross country, we’re always looking for those qualities, and he fits that mold great.”

Woods said McKinney is one of six freshmen coming in.

“We’re look forward to what he’ll add to our program and our future success,” Woods said.

McKinney qualified to run at the Missouri State High School Activities Association state championship meet during his sophomore and senior seasons, missing out as a junior while being hampered by a hip injury. He was one of a handful of runners who helped restart the HHS cross country program in 2018 after it folded about 40 years earlier.

“It was a tough journey,” McKinney said. “Last year was hard, running on a fractured hip, but coach Brown came in this year and helped get me back to strength and it just kept building from there.

“It’s been my goal all along to run in college, and I can’t wait to continue my career at C of O.”

HHS cross country head coach Justin Brown said earning a scholarship to a school like C of O says a lot about McKinney’s character.

“His determination and drive are always excellent, and he’s always put in 100-percent, both in sports and academically,” Brown said. “He’s really been the face of this cross country program for the past three years, and he’ll go down as one of the best athletes to ever run here.”

Brown is in his first year at the helm of HHS cross country, and is the second head coach to since the program was rebooted.

“This is what we want the kids to have – an opportunity to go to school and do something they love,” he said. “Hunter’s honor will be a big part of our building process as we move forward. I think it will show a lot of kids what hard work can do for you, and it may give them a little extra motivation to strive to be better.”

Hunter McKinney addresses the crowd before revealing where he will run cross country in college. He had four offers, and kept his choice secret until last Saturday’s public reveal.
HHS cross country head coach Justin Brown addresses the crowd during a ceremony for Hunter McKinney’s college scholarship signing last Saturday.
Boulder McKinney addresses the crowd during a ceremony for his son Hunter’s college scholarship signing last Saturday.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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