When he discovered the game of tennis at age 30, McKnight was teaching chemistry and coaching women’s basketball at the Utica Campus and first began coaching tennis there.
The Bogue Chitto native transferred to the Raymond Campus in 1985 and soon began to re-establish Hinds tennis for serious competition. During the next 15 years of coaching, his teams won 90 percent of their matches, finishing with an overall record of 430-47.
In 1995, McKnight became the first black American to be inducted into the Mississippi Tennis Association Hall of Fame. In 1999, he was the first black American to be inducted into two national tennis halls of fame, the NJCAA Women’s Tennis Hall of Fame and the NJCAA Men’s Tennis Hall of Fame.
During his Hinds career, his men’s teams, whose record stands at 249-37, won nine state and eight NJCAA Region 23 championship titles (1986-1988, 1991-1995 and 1999) and had five undefeated seasons. McKnight’s women’s teams enjoyed a 181-12 record and captured eight state and eight NJCAA Region 23 championships (1989-1992, 1994-1995 and 1997-1998). They had four undefeated seasons.
McKnight’s honors also include being named men’s and/or women’s Tennis Coach of the Year 14 out of the 15 years by MACJC, MAC and NJCAA Region 23; Coach of the Year by the Mississippi Tennis Association (MTA) in 1992 and 1999; and MTA Tennis Hall of Fame in 2003.
McKnight is a graduate of E.H. Harris High School in Brookhaven. He received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in chemistry at, respectively, Alcorn State University, 1967; Southern University (Baton Rouge), 1970; and Kansas State University, 1976.
McKnight resides in Jackson with his wife, Gloria. They are the parents of Christopher McKnight and Cleon McKnight Jr.