A young girl with pigtails idolized her big brother from the very beginning. Janet was always there shagging balls, rebounding for her older brother and loving every minute of it. It was what seemed to be the fun and natural thing to do. She adored Mike.
Well, this Mike would become one of Oregon's greatest athletes. Mike's father, Al Keck, became a dean of high school basketball coaches in the state of Oregon for more than 30 years after moving his family to Klamath Falls in the 1950s. He and his wonderful wife are amazing people.
Mike Keck's legacy started with his love for three sports: football, basketball and baseball. He enjoyed the sport that was in season at the time. Keck became a record-setting quarterback, showing both great running ability and passing prowess for K-Falls in the mid to late '60s, helping to restore a football program that for many years was an also-ran. He could very well have been a major college quarterback if it had been his desire.
Then there was basketball. Under the watchful eye of his legendary father, Mike stopped opponents' top scorers on a regular basis and then scored from 30 to 50 points a night in Southern Oregon Conference gyms. Mike would lead the Pelicans to three top-five finishes at state tournaments throughout his absolutely amazing basketball career at K-Falls.
Then there was baseball, maybe his most natural of all of his sports. Yes, here again he would be the leader of one of the major dynasties in Oregon baseball (high school as well as American Legion) programs ever. In fact, Keck helped hit and pitch the K-Falls Falcons to the 1968 American Legion World Series championship.
Mike Keck can be considered in the same breath as Mel Renfro, Terry Baker, Bill Enyart, Danny Miles and Danny Ainge and others. He may truly be Oregon's greatest ever.
Keck was sought by many colleges out of high school and certainly could have signed a major league baseball contract. Ralph Miller, in his first season as Oregon State University's basketball coach, saw a spark from the southern Oregon kid. At only 6-foot, 190 pounds, Miller saw Keck with this lust for the game that he had rarely witnessed. Miller loved Keck.
Janet Keck Beamer was that baby sister that doted on her big brother. She adored that welcome smile and his kind demeanor. Janet says, "he seemed to be everything that a brother should be. Mike was loving, cared about others feelings and was always the big brother when I needed a shoulder to lean on."
Mike Keck so very sadly died in a tragic car accident Jan. 30 1971, while attending OSU, on a visit to Nevada. It truly was an American tragedy that's hard to explain. I know even now Janet and her wonderful family still ask why. There are no real answers, I guess. I'm sure for Janet's mom and dad, when watching Janet's kids David and Greg Beamer perform, memories rush in of the son they lost so many years ago.
There have been times in watching the Beamer kids you actually saw a glimpse of Mike in the way the kids walked, caught a ball, or just in their general athletic body language. Time certainly heals misfortune that occurs in most families. The Kecks and Beamers have moved on with grace and pride through the last 30 years.
I write this note this week to let the Keck family know that those who followed that handsome young man felt Oregon lost not only a great athlete but a brilliant and wonderful man. He will never be forgotten: Mike Keck.
Tom Melton is a Pendleton radio broadcaster. His column appears every other week in the East Oregonian.