OAK HILL – After seven years as an assistant coach at Oak Hill High School, Heath McKinniss has been hired as the school’s new head basketball coach of the boys’ program.
McKinniss, who was the head coach of the girls, as well as the boys’ programs at Jackson, takes over for longtime coach Norm Persin, who retired after 14 seasons, before being rehired at Valley High School a month ago. The Oak Hill Board of Education hired McKinniss on June 17.
McKinniss said he is grateful for the opportunity to take over for one of the best coaches in the state of Ohio.
“You see the championship signs up on the light poles when you drive into the school for both the boys and girls. When you walk into the hallway, you see all the trophies,” McKinniss said. “Oak Hill is a basketball rich school. It is a great opportunity.
“It is exciting because the community loves it, and they support it. The school supports it, and the kids love to play.”
In an interview with Persin at the end of the season, he said he didn’t see a drop off in the program under McKinniss, who has studied and learned under him for seven seasons.
“He treated me as an equal to him,” said McKinniss. “I was a junior varsity coach and varsity assistant coach, but he treated me like I was an assistant head coach. He gave me responsibilities and let me learn from him.
“If you ever wanted a mentor, someone who can teach the game, Norm Persin is that guy.”
With Oak Hill and Valley both playing in the Southern Ohio Conference Division II, the two coaches will face off twice each season.
“It will be fun. I have coached against Coach Persin in camps and summer leagues. So when he walks into the gym (at Oak Hill), it will be a lot different for him than it will be for us,” said McKinniss.
The newly hired coach said there would not be much of a change in the way the program does things, and the same coaching staff will remain in place, with Jim Slone, Michael Hale as varsity assistant coaches, while Mitchell Hale will serve as the junior varsity coach.
The Oaks won 18 games during the 2019-2020 season, making it to the sectional championship game, where they lost to Ironton 42-28.
However, the team lost seven key seniors, but McKinniss is hoping to continue moving in a winning direction.
“The kids we have coming back didn’t play a lot of varsity minutes last season,” said McKinniss. “When you lose 95 percent of your scoring, we will ask some kids to step up, who I hope are excited to do that.
“We hope they are ready for that.”
McKinniss said the work ethic of his players has been outstanding this summer.
“I gave them workouts to do during the quarantine period, and since we came into the gym in June, they have been committed and are getting better,” said McKinniss. “It has been great. We are doing things now that coaches do not get to do in the summer.
“Usually you get your 10 days, and you use them normally, through shootouts or a camp or a scrimmage against another school. The OHSAA has opened it up and allowed us to coach our kids unlimited, through August 31.”
With phase III beginning, programs cannot take part in shootouts or summer leagues; however, they can have intra-squad scrimmages.
Everybody expected McKinniss to be hired, as the head coach after Persin announced his retirement in January, and the response from the players have been great, according to the new coach.
“I coached most of the kids on junior varsity. So they understand what I expect,” he said. “The effort they put out is what they have always expected.
“That is one thing we had with Coach Persin. Our effort in practices was outstanding. They understand that it isn’t going to change.”
McKinniss also said the program, overall, is not going to change.
“How we carry ourselves and what we do on a daily basis – inside of practices and inside of games – what we are asking the kids to do is not much different.”
McKinniss and his wife Melissa live in Jackson. They have two children, including a son Garrett, who will be a freshman at OHHS this year. His daughter Carson will be entering the fifth grade at Jackson.
Note: In addition to the new coaching hiring, Scott Lewis was hired to take over for Persin as the school’s new athletic director.