He did it all, covering various high school sports in, and around the Philadelphia metropolitan and suburban Delaware Valley. But it was one sport specifically that he helped lift off of the ground and send into popularity with the likes of inner city and suburban basketball, and football. It was high school varsity ice hockey. As one of the most influential Philadelphia sports journalists of all time, Don’s coverage catapulted the unsanctioned sport into familiarity where interest spiked and made youth ice hockey a household name. When opening the weekly high school sports section you were guaranteed headlines and top-notch columns second to no other sport in the area. With the direction of Hockey Central providing weekly scores and updates, Don wrote the headlines which helped push the Flyers Cup Tournament to a prestigious level.

By Ross Porubski

Growing up & early years

Don grew up in a very small town in rural Pennsylvania Dutch Country, “I remember the first traffic light going up in the 50s in that area and at that time, there were railroads and baseball”, McKee said. It was a typical small town … walk to school, ride a bike everywhere, play baseball, softball, and whiffle ball all summer. He had no specific aspirations while he was a student in high school. Mckee tried to play baseball, with no positive results. But a youthful love of sports made entering newspaper sports writing easy, “much of sports writing is gathering information…when you like the subject it’s easy”, he said.

When Don attended college journalism and the news media industry specifically newspapers were his career goal, mainly because he found it so easy to write papers, articles, etc. He majored in history, though, because he found that was the easiest way to get good grades while holding down a 25-30-hour-a-week job in college. Since his job was at a newspaper, that became his college. “I still got decent grades and graduated on time”, Don said.

The Career

Circa 1975

McKee’s first stop was with the Pittsburgh Press, covering high school sports. After a brutal strike there, he wound up at the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill covering everything. Don said during that time he was lucky enough to get to cover the 1973 and 1974 Stanley Cup playoffs, which launched his hockey writing career. Later on, after settling down, Don made the decision a year or so into his marriage to stop traveling and cover high school sports or work on the desk. It was no sacrifice, he hates traveling and still does to this day.

Next stop, PHILLY! McKee was offered a job at the Philadelphia Inquirer where he worked in the sports department, and also covered high school sports. He didn’t anticipate the surge in ice hockey interest, but it made sense. The Flyers of that day were one of the most colorful teams in sports. “People in Philly have no idea how huge the interest was in other cities — even cities that did not draw many fans for their own teams. Kids copy what they see on TV and wanting to be like the Flyers was natural. The Flyers were fun”, said McKee. With the windfall of hockey attraction and appeal sweeping across the Delaware Valley the prospects of growing the game through youth participation exploded onto the scene. Ed Snider had an idea to build up interest through youth club, and high school hockey like other hockey-centric cities. Mr. Snider’s vision required a management team to centralize the sport and this included marketing with the help of Philly news media. Enter Don McKee, long story short: he grew very close with Andy Abramson (Don was 25 and Andy 21 around 1979) … Don covered a lot of hockey, and when he got the Inquirer to start a hockey top 10, and an all-area team, that made the Inquirer a hockey paper and legitimized high school varsity ice hockey. When Andy got the Flyers to start the Flyers Cup Tournament, the Inquirer covered the heck out of it, “It was a great era, but I was yanked off sports in 1983 and fell away from it. The coverage dwindled”, Don said. I posed the question was there anything special he did to help in facilitating putting high school hockey on the proverbial high-level sports map. His answer was, “Nothing special, I could write a story every day in those days (75-83) and I mixed in hockey with football, wrestling, and baseball. I just enjoyed the people and most were very receptive. In certain other sports or leagues, people were very hostile to the Inquirer”, McKee said. In 1984 Don was offered a chance at sports administration and worked in this area of the industry for about five years. In 1988 he was moved into the Jersey Section, again mostly administrative, and was there until 1997, when he gave up writing to become a full-time editor.

The End of an Era

In 2012 Mr. McKee decided it was time to call it a day. He’d seen and done it all throughout his thirty-eight-year career. Philly sports were in a downward spiral and with all of the changes taking place in print, online, radio, and TV media it was decided now is the time. McKee took the opportunity to pen his final article, “Parting Shots” as his goodbye to his proponents, adversaries, and anyone else interested in the read. “It was my assessment of the Philadelphia sports scene as I was leaving. I found it bleak. I was excoriated in print, on the radio, and in hundreds of bitter letters and nasty phone calls. But I was right — in July of 2012 I said the Phillies, Eagles and 76ers were in bad straits. The Eagles went 4-12, the Phillies were wretched for a full decade and the 76ers became a national laughing stock to the point the league had to step in. But in a small town like Philadelphia, the fans don’t want to hear criticism – they want you to lead cheers for their heroes. I tried to see the teams as they really are, not as the fans want them to be”, he said.

2022, the first annual Ed Snider Award member, Don McKee

In 2022, the AAHA (Atlantic Amateur Hockey Association) reached out to Don to inform him of a new award they would be introducing, appropriately named the “Ed Snider” award. Don was advised he was selected and the Association would like to formally honor him for his contributions to uplift, and popularize the sport thereby helping shape what it has become today. “First of all, I was flabbergasted. I had been retired for ten years and hadn’t covered hockey for nearly forty!!. It was a shock and an enormous honor. I got a few emails, and some phone calls, and had a wonderful evening with the good folks who work so hard to keep youth hockey functioning. It is, without qualification, the biggest honor of my entire career. Thank you to everyone involved”, Don said.

There was a reason Don McKee was nominated for and received the Ed Snider Award in 2022. Without Don and his nose for news, there wouldn’t have been the level of media coverage of both high school and youth hockey in the Delaware Valley, and as result of Don’s coverage made student-athletes like Chris “Gump” Whiteside, and Scott “The Shot” Chamness true barrier breakers for high school hockey in so many intangible ways….

~ Andy Abramson

Don is happily retired and enjoying life without the hustle and bustle that once was. He offered this last quote, “A wise man said, When it’s over, it’s over.” There were some post-retirement ideas Don had envisioned and accomplished as well. “I had planned any number of retirement projects. I had sold a couple of book ideas and could have done a lot of radio/TV. But I quickly realized it was time to move on. That was the best decision I ever made!

A big thanks to Don McKee for the ride down memory lane, providing first-hand experience, and giving us a glimpse into his career and personal life.

Thank you Don!