March 14, 1930 - February 8, 2021
George Donald ‘Don’ McConnaughey passed away peacefully on February 8, 2021. He was born March 14, 1930, Rogers, Arkansas to Addison and Sallie (Breeze) McConnaughey, a farm family of 8 just outside of town on Prairie Creek. He was an all-around athlete at Rogers High School, named all-conference and all state in football and was one of state’s top high school sprinters in the late 1940’s.
Don was widely recruited but chose to attend and compete at Arkansas State Teachers College, now University of Central Arkansas or UCA. He immediately started as a 2-way End as a freshman on the 1949 team and was a top sprinter on the track team. He met Melba Jean Taylor that year and would later marry her in 1951 and have 3 sons.
During the summer of 1950, his Arkansas National Guard unit was called to active duty by President Truman to train, ship out and fight in the Korean War. His unit, the 936th Field Artillery Battalion spent 6 months training then shipped out to the Korean front, February 1951 to January 1952. They were involved in heavy firing in several UN offensives and counter offensives against the Chinese and North Koreans. He was honorably discharged from the US Army so he could return home to go back to school in the spring of 1952. He decided to decline an appointment to West Point but also found out that the NCAA would not let him transfer and be eligible at nearby University of Arkansas.
Don headed back to UCA and earned a Bachelor of Science in Education degree. The AIC conference the school had played in previously had gotten rid of scholarships, so he paid for school with the GI Bill and taught swim lessons on the side. From 1952-54 he played end and fullback and was named all-conference in 1954. His wife Melba was also the UCA Homecoming Queen in 1953 after welcoming the birth of their first son, Doug in March of that year. In track, he added many relay and sprint conference titles in the 100 and 200 as one of the top scorers in the conference. He was inducted into the UCA Sports Hall of Fame in 2008 as a coach, player and track athlete.
Don began a 38-year teaching and coaching career in the spring of 1955 at Norphlet High School AR along with wife Melba. He next moved to Amarillo High School TX in 1956 to become an assistant football coach and head track coach for the Sandies. He earned a Masters of Science in Education degree from nearby West Texas State. He coached the Sandies football and track teams for the next 5 years at Amarillo HS winning many district championships in track and football. Additionally, he was one of future NFL coach Bum Phillips assistants at Amarillo where he learned the now famous ‘numbers’ 6-5 defense. He sent many players and athletes on the High Plains onto college careers. In 1961, he moved his family to the Seattle WA area, hired at Highline High School in Burien as a biology teacher and assistant coach. Melba also was hired at the ‘Home of the Pirates’ and for 30 years taught honors writing, English and literature. He installed the Amarillo defense at Highline and wound up teaching it to many northwest area HS and college coaches, sending many more players onto college, while producing several powerhouse Highline HS teams in the very competitive old Puget Sound League.
In 1963, Don was hired to help start the athletic program at the new community college the state and Highline School District were creating, later known as Highline College. He was one of the first coaches at Highline, eventually moving to the new campus as a physical education/health instructor. After plans for a football program were scrapped, he started the Thunderbird track and cross country teams from scratch and would go onto win 2 NWAC Championships (1969 and 1989) and developed Highline College into one of the strongest collegiate track programs at any level in the Pacific Northwest during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. He recruited and developed many distance runners, sprinters and throwers that went on to compete at 4-year colleges. His teams at HCC rarely finished lower than 2nd in championship meets and were very competitive in indoor and outdoor meets versus Washington, WSU, Oregon, Oregon State and Spokane CC. He later served as Highline College’s athletic director and was a commissioner and director on the NWAC Board for more than a decade. He was inducted in 1992 into the NWAC Hall of Fame as a coach and administrator and Highline College named the track and field in his honor. He retired in 1993 after 30 years at Highline.
Don enjoyed doing his own remodeling and built several houses himself, remaining physically active well into his late 70’s. He and Melba enjoyed driving their RV to Arizona during the winter and moved to Ocean Shores WA full time. He was active as a deacon at the Faith Community Church, the Elk’s Club, started a men’s badminton league and served on the Fresh Waterways Board. He had many friends and lots of family visits from his sons and grandkids having fun on Duck Lake and the beach. He leaves generations of family, former players, students and athletes behind who remember his positive impact on their lives. He was a man of faith and principle, a fierce competitor but a people person and relationship guy first and foremost. He was preceded in death by his wife of 66 years, Melba, and 5 siblings, Ruth, Jim, Ralph, Joann and Ted and survived by 2 sisters, Nancy Lancaster and Susie Baker. His 3 sons survive him: Doug and Dr. Suzanne McConnaughey, Tom and Sheri McConnaughey and Tim McConnaughey; as well as 4 grandchildren, Everett, Neva, Donny, Monica; and nephews Paul McConnaughey, Bill Lancaster, Slade Baker and nieces Mary Butler, Sally Lin Baker Soendker and Sally Jo Barker Clifton. A private graveside burial service will be held at Bonney Watson Sea Tac and Washington Memorial Park, February 18, 2021 at noon but is limited due to Covid restrictions, but can be live streamed upon invitation. Donations in lieu of flowers may be sent to the Highline College Foundation at highline.edu and select Athletics Fund
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