The saying goes, ‘It takes all kinds of kinds,’ and that’s absolutely true. In every community there are members who shine in one area or another; educators, the chefs at your favorite restaurant, and your trusted mechanic. One of the many benefits of a small town is that you know your local business owners, and they know you, so there’s a level of trust and care you just can’t find anywhere else.
Eric McKinney, a Vandalia native and senior at Vandalia High School, agrees with this assessment. “We all come together no matter what,” he said, “No matter if it’s a football game or if it’s a family that needs help. We all come together and help.” Eric said, as an athlete, he gets that feeling from his coaches as well. In his summation, it’s the added time that coaches are afforded with students, and the nature of sports in general, that makes the relationship a bit stronger. “I feel like you get more out of [coaches] because they show more emotion in sports … in practice and whatnot than you would in a classroom,” he said.
Eric has been an athlete since he was four years old, and 14 years is a long time to build relationships with coaches. Naming just a few, he said he admires Athletic Director Coach Jason Clay, Assistant Coach Patrick Myers, as well as Physical Education teacher Coach Mark Rinehart, of whom he said, “He always has the mood up.”
Eric loves wrestling, saying the sport has been important in his life because, “It’s taught discipline and teamwork,” he said. Many people consider wrestling a sport that focuses more on each individual rather than the team as a whole, but Eric disagrees. “When you go to these tournaments, yeah they’re individual tournaments, but they add your scores up as a team total,” he explained. This year was Eric’s highest scoring year, earning fourth in state in the 160-pound weight class.
He says he’ll miss it after he graduates, but is fortunate that his older brother also wrestled in school, so the possibility for a little brotherly competition isn’t far away. “To this day we still wrestle,” he said. Eric also plays football, at the running back and outside linebacker positions. They made all-conference this year and, while he was hoping for better, he acknowledges that the team did well.
With graduation fast approaching, Eric has solid plans laid out for his future. “I’m going to … welding school, at the Missouri Welding Institute,” he said. He plans to head there right after graduation and, when he’s finished, he may consider doing some traveling work. “Well, I think … for the first however many years, I’ll say five years, I’ll probably travel and then come back home and settle down,” he said.
Eric doesn’t come from a family of welders – it’s just something that has always intrigued him. “I’ve always been interested in it. Even before I started welding, … it’s just always sparked my interest,” he said. Mostly interested in stick, shielded metal arc welding, and TIG welding, he knows during his time at Missouri Welding Institute he may have to do some MIG welding as well. “I don’t like MIG as much, but …I’ll just do whatever I’ve got to do, I guess,” he said.
In his free time, Eric enjoys being outdoors and bow hunting for, “turkey, deer, ducks, squirrel. I’ll do anything, you know,” he said. Initially being exposed to the world of hunting by his dad, he’s been going out on his own in recent years. “We stopped [hunting together] a couple years ago. … You know, when you’re younger you want to feel older. So you just say, ‘Can I go on my own, Dad?’,” he explained.
Having a strong foundation is one of the most important things for future success. An oak tree has to have a good environment for its roots to run deep and thrive. Family, the Vandalia community, and the coaches and educators in the school system here have all served to help Eric’s dreams take root – and we have no doubt that, just like that hundred-year-old oak, his roots will help him reach for the stars.