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District, CHS dedicate field to former coach
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When Ceres High's Phil de la Porte and Karl Nielson submitted a recommendation to name the school's varsity baseball diamond after former coach Art McRae, the Ceres School Board declined to take action until it revised and approved board policy regarding the naming of school facilities or portions of facilities.

The board of trustees approved the recommendation with a unanimous vote in November 2003. The field dedication ceremony will be held this Saturday at 10 a.m.

"He deserves it," de la Porte said. "He's an asset to this community."

Added McRae: "It's a high honor and a very humbling experience to think that I have been rewarded for all those years of coaching. I'm tremendously grateful to the community and the powers that be in the Ceres Unified School District."

McRae taught for 35 years and coached for 37 years.

"I retired from teaching in 1994," McRae said. "I've been subbing since then. I've worked 68 school days this year. I'm averaging two or three days a week."

McRae is looking forward to revisiting and rehashing old times with former players. He'll be accompanied by his wife Donna.

"Any success I may have had is directly related to the efforts and abilities of the athletes," McRae said.

Six of Art's players played professional baseball, including Dick Davey, Jack Thornton, Dave Murphy, Azvaldo Bertolotti, Fulvio Bertolotti and Rick Arnold.

"I got it on my calendar," said Arnold, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1977. "I'm going to try and be there."

Arnold played for McRae for two years.

"Whenever Art was here, the high school team was always in contention," Arnold said. "He devoted his life to his teams and this field. He was very knowledgeable.

"Everyone respected him. Never heard a bad word from any coach, parent or player about him."

McRae was hired as biology teacher and varsity baseball coach at Ceres High at the age of 24, shortly after earning a second teaching credential at Fresno State in 1959. He graduated from Montana State before earning a master's at William & Mary.

"Fleming Haas (Ceres High's former principal) interviewed me on the campus at Fresno State and I was hired," McRae said.

McRae compiled a 550-427 record, won one section title and nine league titles during his tenure as head coach. Ceres also finished second twice in the section and nine times in league.

"A lot of the wins were generated in the years when you played 20 games," McRae said. "You didn't advance levels after the league championship. There were no playoffs."

McRae retired as the winningest baseball coach in school history and the Stanislaus District in June 1996.

"My wife was a baseball widow for 37 years," he said.

McRae has a lot of fond memories.

"We won the section championship in 1990," he said. "That would have to rank right up there.

"I also had the opportunity to coach my son Kyle who graduated in 1986. We won league championships during his junior and senior years."

Kyle is 35 now. He's been a sports information director for Stanford baseball for five years. He's also a statistician for the Golden State Warriors.

Art coached by himself the first 23 years.

"It wasn't unusual to have a one-man coaching staff back in the 1960s and 1970s," he said.

Nielson assisted McRae for 14 years.

"I'm really appreciative of the effort that he put in," McRae said.

McRae won the California Teachers Association--School Bell and Ceres Chamber of Commerce "Citizen of the Year" awards in 1993. In 1984, he was named Ceres High Teacher of the Year.

McRae taught biology, advanced biology, health education, driver education and physical education.

"Art's not just a coach," de la Porte said. "He's a teacher."

Pacific Union Homes donated the sign, which was constructed for $3,100 and installed near the left-field line Friday, April 30. Andy Chipponeri, one of McRae's former players, is superintendent of the company.

"I approached the company I worked for for a lot of reasons," Chipponeri said. "Art is a great person and that's my school. That's the bottom line."

Chipponeri played for McRae in 1972 and 1973.

"He's probably one of those guys that left a brand on me," Chipponeri said. "He had a lot of discipline. He monitored our every step on and off the field. He made sure we were all toeing the line."

Chipponeri said McRae was a no non-sense type of guy.

"When I was there, your shoes were polished or you didn't get on the bus to away games or in the dugout at home," Chipponeri said. "He had a ton of rules and you did not break any of them.

"He's one of those guys that would take notes of things he did not like seeing during practices and games. Prior to games, he would point you out. He yelled but he never swore." - By DALE BUTLER / Staff Reporter of The Ceres (Calif.) Courier