Paul McKee: Humility Meets Great Success

  • It would be impossible to choose the best coach in Rush-Henrietta history. Given the number of accomplished team leaders, such an exercise would be downright foolish. Yet, we know Paul McKee’s name would be mentioned frequently during the spirited discussion.

    District leaders knew what they were doing when they hired McKee in the mid-1960s. Recruited to help Rush-Henrietta develop a varsity football program, he brought his pro football credentials with him. McKee played at Syracuse University and was chosen with the 117th pick in the 1945 NFL draft. Listed at 6’3” and 217 pounds, he caught 30 passes for 413 yards and scored two touchdowns for the Washington Redskins.

    After his two-year career concluded, McKee coached football for Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Central Schools in Central New York. Afterward, he coached at the University of Rochester and Harvard University. In 1964, McKee joined Rush-Henrietta, where he methodically built a successful football program. A varsity squad first took the field in 1968 and began to dominate the local competition.

    “I was blessed to be hired by him, coach football with him, and call him a close friend,” recalls Rick Page, a retired district teacher, coach, and administrator. “He was huge in stature, but also he was a humble, gentle giant who cared deeply for each of his players. As a leader, he demanded hard work and dedication. He always reminded the members of his coaching staff that academics was job number one.”

    McKee became a legend locally and throughout the state. He finished his R-H coaching career with an incredible eight-year record of 57-3-1. McKee also served for 17 years as the district’s athletic director before retiring in 1985. He played a significant role in developing the successful Royal Comets sports program. For these reasons, McKee is in the Section V Hall of Fame.

    When McKee died in 1999, the Democrat and Chronicle interviewed some of his colleagues and former players. Quentin Gordon, played football for McKee between 1968 and 1970. “He gained respect instantly,” Gordon said of his former coach. “Ninety-nine percent of the kids would have run through a brick wall for him.”

    That is because no matter how big or small one was, or how talented, McKee treated all players with respect. “He would carry a roster of 65, 70 kids because he would not make cuts,” Page says. “He found a role for everyone and treated the least talented of his players the same way he treated his starting quarterback.”

    In McKee’s honor, friends and family members have for more than two decades conducted an annual golf tournament fundraiser. From those funds generated, dozens of $1,000 scholarships have been given to graduating seniors. It is one way for our community to keep alive Coach McKee’s incredible contributions and passion for Rush-Henrietta and its students.

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