by Rob Asbell
Keeping Her Eye on the Ball
On a sunny Sunday afternoon in April, Kelly McKeon traveled to Atlanta to watch a Braves game. Although she is an avid sports fan, her interest was not so much on the home team’s one-run victory over Pittsburgh, but on the ceremony before the game. McKeon was there as a finalist for the Vincent J. Dooley Award and Scholarship which recognizes student athletes on the basis of their character and sportsmanship—a perfect fit for the recent Glynn Academy graduate.
“Kelly is just really well-rounded,” says her father, Matt McKeon. “She works hard at school and athletics, and she is involved in her church and community.”
As a young lady growing up in the Golden Isles, it isn’t hard to guess how Kelly McKeon spent a lot of her free time. “I go to the beach a lot,” she says.
At four years old, McKeon became an island girl when her parents moved the family to St. Simons. Along with her older sister Erin, McKeon took to the outdoors, playing sports, and enjoying the sunshine. By the time she was ready to start school, she had discovered softball.
“I have been playing softball since I can remember,” McKeon says. “Whether it was in the backyard playing catch with my dad and sister or playing T-ball when I was six.”
Her older sister had a major impact on McKeon’s athletic abilities. Although best friends, the sisters were constantly competing. “In the pool, on a zip line, or running upstairs to go to bed, they always pushed each other to be better athletes,” Matt McKeon says.
Erin McKeon’s impact on her younger sister’s athleticism extended beyond sibling rivalry, introducing Kelly McKeon to a higher level of competition. Because the sisters were two years apart, they played in different age groups, which made scheduling a nightmare for their parents. With the girls practicing at different times, the McKeon family shuttle to the ballpark was running constantly until a solution was found.
“We played Kelly ‘up’ because it saved us a lot of time,” mother Jamie McKeon says of putting Kelly McKeon in a higher age group, which allowed the sisters to play on the same team. Despite being younger and smaller than her opponents, Kelly McKeon proved she could hold her own and quickly earned the respect of opposing teams.
“She came up to bat during a game, and the other team’s coach was yelling to his players, ‘Move back. She’s little but she can hit,’” her mother recalls.
Kelly McKeon handled the pressure like a pro. During a game with the Stingrays’ traveling team, she found herself in an unfamiliar situation. The coach decided to play her at second base for the first time—a big leap for the youngest player on the team. She was put to the test when a batter hit a line drive into the gap between first and second. McKeon made a diving catch to save a base hit, earning cheers from the stands. Just a moment later, the next batter hit a nearly identical shot and again McKeon made the diving grab. “That helped me earn my spot,” she says.
She continued to excel at Glynn Academy under the tutelage of softball coach Glenn Etheridge, making the All-Region team three years in a row, as well as being named the team’s Most Valuable Player all three years.
While softball has always been a part of McKeon’s life, she did not become serious about tennis until her sophomore year. “I tried to get her to come out her freshman year so she could follow in her sister’s footsteps,” Glynn Academy tennis coach Burnett Rooks says.
McKeon played doubles for the Terrors, earning a spot on the All-Region team her first season. She moved up to playing singles her junior year when she faced one of the biggest challenges of her young career. The Terrors had made it to the state playoffs and traveled to Bainbridge to face the Bearcats on their home courts. Each team had won two matches, and McKeon’s singles match would determine the victor. She lost the first set but rallied to win the second. As the other matches ended, all attention turned to McKeon’s duel at number-two singles. Making it even more difficult, the dismissal bell rang, and many students gravitated to the tennis courts to watch McKeon’s match.
“All the students were watching and cheering for the other girl,” McKeon recalls. It was an unfamiliar situation for her. The throngs of cheering high school students gave the match an atmosphere usually reserved for Friday night football games. Through the noise of the spectators, McKeon stood toe to toe with her Bearcats’ counterpart. The players were tied at five games each in the final and deciding set with the quarterfinals on the line.
Jamie McKeon said that when Rooks realized the fate of the team was in McKeon’s hands, a look of confidence came over his face. “He said, ‘We’ve got this. Kelly can handle it.’”
McKeon broke her opponent’s serve and won the final set (7-5), advancing the Terrors to the state quarterfinals. Her ability to handle such intense pressure at such a young age comes as no surprise to those who know McKeon.
“She has a temperament that is collected, and she doesn’t get rattled,” her mother says. “She wants to win, and she’s competitive, but she always has a level head.”
McKeon also has a sterling academic record and enough honors to impress any college admissions office. “I make As and Bs. I’ve never made a C before,” she says.
McKeon hopes to major in graphic design at Georgia Southern, where she will be a freshman this fall. Although it will not be on the intercollegiate level, McKeon hopes to continue her athletic career in Statesboro.
“I will play with friends and maybe intramurals,” she says. “But my studies will come first. I just want to get good grades.”
As a two-sport athlete at Glynn Academy in Brunswick, recent graduate Kelly McKeon’s choice as her favorite athlete is an understandable selection.
“Adam Wainwright,” she says.
Like McKeon, Wainwright lived on St. Simons Island and played football and baseball at Glynn Academy before being selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft in 2000. As a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, Wainwright has won two World Series Championships.
“When I was in middle school, he came and talked at a meeting of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes,” McKeon recalls. “He had to duck to get into the media center at Glynn Middle,” she says of the 6’7” Wainwright. The visit had a positive impact on McKeon who attends The Chapel in Brunswick and is active at The Gathering Place, a community-based ministry for young people in Glynn County.
“As he is growing in his faith, he is also growing as an athlete,” she says. “It’s good to see that.”