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Kindred Spirits

Though They Are Separated By Almost Four Decades, San Marino High School’s Two Top Career Rushers Find Common Ground

Four days after the Oct. 14 varsity football game at Temple City, San Marino High School senior running back Michael Chan was still giddy about getting mud stains on his all-white uniform from that school’s natural grass field.

“I never played on a grass field before,” he said.

Meanwhile, former Titan Bert McKee curiously inspected the rubber pellets enmeshed in the synthetic playing surface at Titan Stadium, which have long since become the norm in athletic turf and predate McKee’s era by at least a quarter of a century.

McKee graduated in 1979; Chan will get his diploma in 2017. Chan wears No. 21, McKee sported No. 22. Chan plays for offensive genius Mike Hobbie, who is among the founding fathers of the high-powered spread offense. McKee was sent onto the field by Bob Cunz, who was more a believer in pounding the ball into the line and only called for a pass when absolutely necessary.

What they share is an uncanny ability to gain yards on a football field. Both made their living in the space between the offensive tackles. Their average yards per carry is almost identical, with McKee’s 5.99 just a shoelace ahead of Chan’s 5.9. And they are of uncannily similar size.

Until Oct. 14, McKee was the leading rusher in school history with 2,349 yards on 392 carries during the 1977 and 1978 seasons.

Last Friday night, Chan surpassed the mark. His 169 yards against Temple City give Michael 2,490 yards on 422 attempts for his career, which include a couple of appearances as a sophomore during blowout victories over San Gabriel and Blair.

Refreshingly, McKee didn’t even know he held the record when contacted last week.

“One of my friends told me I was the record holder, but I didn’t know for sure,” he said in his trademark ‘aw, shucks’ fashion.

Chan, son of Phil and Pat Chan, never thought about it until the end of last season, when he was paging through a program and noticed the record was within reach. In just 6 games, he has leapfrogged seven former Titans to take the all-time lead.

McKee, the son of San Marino’s Kingston and Veva McKee, played 2 years at Pasadena City College before suiting up at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Dad will be 85 on the 30th of this month and is very healthy,” Bert said. Veva passed away in 1998.

Sisters Kim and Jennifer graduated from San Marino High School in 1977 and 1983, respectively, and are both married.

Bert lives in San Dimas with his wife, Catherine Lynch McKee, whom he met at Cal. The couple were married in 1990 and have a son and daughter, Timothy 25, and Shannon, 23. Bert works in the wholesale lumber and plywood trade and occasionally heads to San Marino to watch his beloved Titans.

During his high school days, McKee also played baseball and ran track for 4 years and even wrestled during his freshman year.

“Cunz talked me into that,” he joked.

When the two met on Tuesday evening, McKee even chided Chan for playing just one sport his senior year.

“We didn’t even think about it,” McKee said. “We just followed each other from sport to sport. We all played football, then we went to wrestling or basketball. Then baseball or track. It’s a different world.”

McKee is believed to hold another school record – one that may never be broken: The 100-yard dash.

“Everything’s now in meters so that one might be safe,” he said with a laugh.

McKee and Chan enjoyed a brief conversation when the two were introduced after Tuesday’s practice.

“It was really good to meet Michael,” McKee said. “I could see the competitive spirit in his eyes. He is a humble, focused young man.”

When asked if he harbored any ill feelings about surrendering the top spot, McKee immediately exclaimed “Not at all!”

“Records are made to be broken,” he said. “In a way, I almost feel part of it now. I think it’s fun that someone else took it over. It was there too long.”

Chan hopes to play at the next level and has been in contact with Claremont McKenna College. He enjoyed the opportunity to meet his predecessor.

“He is a very nice man,” Chan said of McKee. “It was fascinating to meet someone who held the record for almost 40 years.”

The two spent time talking about the differences between their coaches and how athletics have changed over the years.

“It was a great experience,” Chan concluded.

In a much different way, football continues to play a role in McKee’s life.

“One of the great things Coach Cunz did, he made us write down our goals,” McKee explained. When I moved away to college and later from San Marino, I kind of lost focus. I remembered those goals and Coach Cunz’s emphasis on them and it has brought back a lot of perspective.”

Sound advice for all.


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