Career as Springs A.D. Gone Too Fast

‘I’m going to miss most working with the kids’
Mark McKee, above, and his six brothers were inducted into East Hampton High School’s Hall of Fame at homecoming last September. Jack Graves

Mark McKee, one of seven brothers who were inducted last fall into East Hampton High School’s Hall of Fame, is to retire soon as a Springs School physical education teacher and its athletic director. 

He will miss the kids, he said. That will be the hardest thing. “Everyone is important,” the interviewee said during a recent conversation at The Star. “When they know you care for them, they’ll do anything for you.”

The McKee family came to East Hampton from Port Washington. At East Hampton High, McKee was the football team’s quarterback for two years and the baseball team’s catcher for three — running the show, as it were, in each case, “whether [his teammates] liked it or not,” he said with a laugh.

He also played junior varsity basketball in his freshman and sophomore years, but worked out in the weight room in the two subsequent winters, strengthening his arm for baseball.

Mark McKee is not the only member of his family retiring this year — his sister-in-law Karen Verderosa McKee, “Kelly’s wife,” with whom he graduated in 1973, is too.

As for his high school years, “my favorite teacher was Dave Slattery . . . he taught social studies. I love him and miss him. He encouraged every one of his students to reach for the stars.”

“The number-one coach I had growing up, without a doubt, was Bob Budd. He coached me in football and baseball.” 

There was the late Ed Petrie too. Though McKee did not play varsity basketball for him, he spent much of his free time (he only needed three credits in his senior year to graduate) observing Petrie’s physical education classes at the middle school. 

“He was the best — he was an incredible coach. All the alumni who played for Ed Petrie speak of him reverently; all of them say they’re very thankful to have had a coach like that. He was a man of few words, but you listened.”

When Petrie was honored by the Frank Maguire Foundation at the New York Athletic Club some years ago, McKee was there.

As did his brothers Kelly and Billy, who retired last year as the high school’s varsity boys basketball coach, Mark McKee went to Southern Connecticut State College (now University) in New Haven, graduating, as did they, with a physical education degree.

Asked who the best athlete was among the brothers, he demurred, with a smile. “No comment. That’s not fair, that’s what I hear my mom’s voice saying. . . . We were all pretty much athletic.”

Knowing he wanted to stay here and that he wanted to teach in his field, McKee had to wait quite a while for a door to open. During that period, he did some substitute teaching and coached, initially with the late Roger Golden, “a mentor of mine and a friend,” who is credited with having begun the Bridgehampton High School boys basketball team’s ball-hawking, run-and-gun style of play. 

While McKee was coaching the Killer Bees’ jayvee, Golden’s varsity, a team that included Carl Johnson, Wayne Hopson, and Louis and Sam O’Neal, won in 1978 the school’s first state championship in years, a string that has been extended to nine state titles, under Golden, John Niles, and Johnson, in the years since.

McKee came to the Springs School in September of 1986. “I was 31, and I’ve worked there for the past 31 years.”

No, he said in reply to a question, he was, because he loved what he did, none the worse for wear. When it was observed that, happily, he still had all his hair, the interviewee said, “Thank you, but it’s not the right color.”

The retiree-to-be came to Springs when Michael Maiden was its superintendent (Bill Lycke had just left), and was made the athletic director posthaste. 

“We had junior high football, but the fields were being redone, so we combined with East Hampton. Kelly and I coached the team that first year. We were combined with East Hampton in basketball too. We had a baseball team at Springs in the spring.”

Ross Gload, who went on to become one of the best pinch-hitters in major league baseball, “was in fifth grade when I started. You could see right away that he was a special talent. I knew when I got him on the junior high team that I was not going to touch that swing. If I had tried, I would have only made it worse. He not only had great ability, he’s a great person. He’s come back to the school a number of times. His mother is still working at the school; his sister, Larissa, works there too.”

Asked how many he’d taught over the years, the A.D. said, “All I know is that over the years I’ve had in my phys ed classes every kid who’s gone through the school, from kindergarten through eighth grade. Which is great — the more the merrier. I’ve been very fortunate — I’m most certainly going to miss most working with the kids. And I’ve also been very fortunate to work with great colleagues, Hughie King, Kathleen Vinski, Pete Lisi . . . the list goes on.”

“I don’t look at kids athletically,” he went on, “but as future successes. It doesn’t have to be athletics. You want to give each and every one of them the opportunity to strive for excellence. You want to have them commit 100 percent. That commitment will carry over as you go on.”

“Sure, there were some kids I couldn’t reach. But I never stopped trying to reach them. That’s the fortunate thing about having them when they’re young. You’re able to mold them. That’s something I’m going to miss. But, really, when it comes down to it, it’s how you treat others. There was no ‘me, me, me’ with me — always ‘us’ and ‘we.’ ”

What would he do in retirement, then? 

“I hope to travel, and I want to become a much better reader. And I’ll take much better care of myself. . . . I do a two-hour loop, 20-plus miles, of bike riding in the early morning, stopping at six beaches. It’s safe then and calm. I plan to pedal all over the country.” 

“My goal,” he added, “is to get up every day and improve myself.”

And as for his career, “these 31 years have gone too fast.”