Former Pennsylvania State MVP becomes Lady Barons’ softball coach

Christopher Dacanay
Sports Editor

Former Pennsylvania State MVP Chris McKnight said the last time he had been interviewed for the media was “probably (in) college. I went to Penn State — lots of media there — so they did a lot of radio shows, locker room interviews after games, newspaper (articles), that sort of thing.

“I haven’t done a live interview in a while — (it) brings back memories.”

McKnight is the newly hired coach for Franciscan University of Steubenville’s women’s softball team. A current resident of Venetia, Pennsylvania, McKnight sports a lengthy record of baseball-playing and coaching experience.

McKnight grew up in California, Pennsylvania, and went to school at Penn State University’s main campus, where he graduated with a marketing degree. Also, he received his master of business administration degree from Robert Morris University.

While he was at Penn State, McKnight played baseball, eventually being named MVP of the team his senior year.

According to a release on Franciscan’s athletics page regarding his hire, McKnight had a batting average of 0.379 his senior year, meaning about 38% of his times at bat resulted in a hit. McKnight far surpassed a batting average of 0.300, which is considered excellent. He also led his team in hits and runs batted in.

McKnight’s coach was the late Charles “Chuck” Medlar, a former Olympic trainer and the person for whom Penn State’s baseball field is named.

“Playing for (Medlar),” McKnight said, “you picked up a lot of details about the game and how to coach. … I was lucky enough to have some very talented coaches (at Penn State) that I got my start with.”

McKnight first heard that the Lady Barons were in need of a new coach around Thanksgiving in 2021. One of McKnight’s daughters, Alexis McKnight, is on the softball team, and she informed him that the team was without a coach at the time.

After the application process, McKnight said, he was hired Jan. 10 and has been “on the job” ever since. This hiring came at a time when the softball team had seen six other coaches since the program’s inception in 2009, according to Franciscan’s release.

“I knew Franciscan was in need of a coach,” McKnight said. “Time was a hurdle for finding a coach and I could only imagine the uncertainty the team was feeling. I thought I could help the situation.”

McKnight did not know much about Franciscan until his daughter decided to transfer there.

“It was very noticeable on campus with admissions and all of the people we met how friendly of a campus (Franciscan) is,” McKnight said. “You don’t get that everywhere; not that people are unfriendly, it’s just that it was very noticeable here.”

Coaching for McKnight began when he had his three daughters for recreational league sports. After that, McKnight branched into Amateur Athletic Union and travel team coaching, particularly for the Pittsburgh Power softball organization — McKnight wore his Pittsburgh Power jacket to the interview.

Since then, McKnight said, he has coached for more than 60 different teams. For all of them, McKnight has coached girls only.

“Playing and coaching are two different things,” McKnight said. “I have never coached a boys’ team or a men’s team. … I think the young ladies at any age are much different from young men. … (It takes a) different approach on how you may coach them, and, through trial and error, you kind of find out what works and what doesn’t work.”

The stress of juggling academics, athletics and personal life in college is huge, McKnight said. He commends the girls for staying on top of everything, saying, “I want that type of person working for me in the real world. I think it gives them a gigantic leg up with life lessons and whatnot.”

The softball team’s practices for the 2022 season began near the end of January, utilizing indoor facilities at the former Aquinas Elementary School. Despite practices starting as early as 6 a.m., the girls have been receptive to McKnight’s coaching, he said.

“We have a senior-led team,” McKnight said, “but they have been here through thick and thin. … All of the young ladies want to learn, they want to listen, they want to do their best. All (are) very nice young ladies and a nice group — good camaraderie.

“As a coach, you try to give them your best, and of course, in return, you’d like their best, and that’s all you can ask for. So far that’s what I’ve been receiving, and I anticipate that will continue.”

McKnight is not Catholic, but he appreciates the integration of faith on the team led by the Rev. Luke Robertson, TOR, the team’s chaplain.

“As far as faith in practicing,” McKnight said, “we’re not going to complain about umpires or get involved with other teams’ comments. … We’re going to root for our teammates and try to do it the right way.”

Baseball does not consume all of McKnight’s life. In his professional career, he has been working in industrial sales for about 40 years. He has worked in Michigan, Philadelphia and the Pittsburgh area.

In his free time, McKnight said, he loves to play golf “a couple of times per week when the weather hits.”

Beginning in mid-March, the softball team will begin its season by traveling to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in hopes of finding better weather to play in. There they will play their first eight games, none of which will count toward the softball conference tournament at the season’s end.

McKnight gave his primary goal for the team as they approach their first season together: “I want them to have fun playing and learning softball and to have a memorable experience.

“I really enjoy the team; I think the girls are very coachable, very likable. They want to try their best and do all the right things in life. They’re just very enjoyable to be around. I really want to emphasize that I’m very happy to be their coach.”


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