With the exception of any rookie of the year-type honors, most awards are based on a career full of accomplishments.
Nobody knows this better than Lynden athletic director Mike McKee, who recently was selected the Washington Secondary School Athletic Administrators Association State Athletic Director of the Year.
"I'm honored, obviously," McKee said in a phone interview, "but I guess my first thought is I'm getting old. I think you have to be around a while to win awards like this. I look at coaches' awards, and most of the time they've had great success due to great kids over the years. Therefore, you put yourself in position to win awards like this by surrounding yourself with great people over a number of successful years."
Though he may not like to admit it, McKee certainly fits that bill, as he is the first Whatcom County athletic director to win the honor.
He started as athletic director at Squalicum in 2002, spending seven school years leading the Storm. He's now in his fourth year at Lynden, taking the position in 2009 to work in the same town he lived in and work in the school district his own kids attended.
"While I was at Squalicum and here at Lynden, I've been fortunate to have some incredible coaches," McKee said. "Those coaches have had some tremendous success, which helps make me look a lot better than I possibly could on my own."
During his tenure as athletic director at Squalicum, the Storm won state team titles in boys' basketball (2009), girls' cross country (2003, '04 and '06) and boys' soccer (2009) and finished among the top eight in state competition 12 times. The school also won the 2008-09 Class 2A Washington Interscholastic Activities Association Scholastic Cup, an award that combines on-field success with classroom excellence and good sportsmanship.
In his three-plus years at Lynden, the Lions already have won state titles in football (2009, '11 and '12), boys' basketball (2012) and boys' soccer (2011) and have finished among the top eight in the state nine times.
"I don't know everything the award is based on, but obviously having successful programs makes people think you're doing a good job," McKee said. "I've been very fortunate to surround myself with good people and good coaches."
McKee also credited the Bellingham Public Schools and Lynden School District and their administrators for allowing him the resources and the freedom to do the things he thought would benefit his student athletes.
"Both school districts place an amazing value on extracurricular activities," said McKee, who is currently serving as the WSSAAA president. "They've allowed me to be involved with organizations like WSSAAA, and that has paid great dividends. Not every athletic director has that ability, so I feel very fortunate to have worked with those kinds of administrators that have allowed me the opportunity."
And McKee, in turn, has helped create an atmosphere where his coaches can succeed.
As a former coach himself - McKee coached the Sehome girls' basketball team from 1996 to 1999 and the Squalicum boys' basketball team from 1999 to 2006 - he knows what coaches need out of their athletic director. In fact he's even gotten back to his coaching roots a little, as he just completed his second season as the C team coach for the Lynden boys' basketball team.
"The coaches at Lynden appreciate how hard Mike works and how he's out most nights supporting our kids and our coaches," Lions boys' basketball coach Brian Roper said in a phone interview. "I think for him, this is not just his job - it's his passion."
And that passion has carried over beyond the walls of Lynden High School.
McKee was one of the principal architects of the Northwest Conference before the 2006-07 school year and continues to be a leader for the NWC and in the Northwest District. He's served as the NWC's scheduler since 2006, was the conference's sportsmanship and web page committee chair from 2006 to 2011 and has been the event manager for 14 district- and state-level events.
"He brings a lot of excitement, dedication and professionalism to the position," said Sehome athletic director and former coaching colleague Colin Cushman in a phone interview. "He takes care of his coaches - that's why they love him. But he also takes care of the conference. He has gone above and beyond to help this conference and this district succeed."
Because of that, McKee was selected the Northwest District's Athletic Director of the Year in January, and honor that made him eligible to be considered along with the other eight district honorees for the state's top honor.
Surprisingly, despite a long, distinguished list of past and present outstanding athletic directors, McKee is the first AD from the current 13 schools in the NWC to win the WSSAAA's annual honor for the state.
Burlington-Edison's Glenn Rickert (1989-90), McKee's predecessor at Lynden Terry DeValois (1993-94), Lynden Christian's Harlan Kredit (1996-97), Blaine's Gary Clausen (2000-01), Ferndale's Vic Randall (2006-07) and Cushman (2008-09) each were honored within the district, but McKee is the first to go on on to win the state award since it was first selected in 1973.
"I've been doing this for almost 11 years now, and I don't have any doubt that I came in at the right time," McKee said. "There were some tremendous athletic directors already established here, such as Terry DeValois, who I've had the pleasure of seeing a whole lot more since I came up here, and Harlan Kredit and Jim Clem at Burlington. They'd been around for a while, and I got the chance to come in and learn from them. Guys like Colin Cushman I got to coach with and Ferndale's Vic Randall have been around for a while. I was very fortunate to work with them and learn from them and the many other talented ADs in this area."
But don't let the humble McKee fool you - he definitely deserved the award.
Just ask his colleagues.
"No questions, he's the best I've ever worked with," Cushman said. "I hold him in such high regard because he cares about doing a good job and he cares about the best interests of kids."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.