Living in Menifee and not sure what he wanted to do after graduating from high school, Chris Fulkerson decided that getting a community college degree would be a good first step.
But the then-18-year-old couldn’t afford to stay in a dorm or rent a room.
So he decided to turn for help to some well-loved relatives: his grandparents.
Among other things, they never missed one of Fulkerson’s football games at Paloma Valley High School, where he played as an outside linebacker.
They would make the long commutes from their home in Fullerton to see his games, usually breaking into the ice chest to eat sandwiches during their inevitably traffic-choked crawls down the 91 and 15 freeways.
High school football was a particular passion of his grandparents, which should come as no surprise: Fulkerson’s grandfather is Mickey Flynn, the legendary former Anaheim High School running back who, in the mid-1950s, was one of the finest prep football players in the country.
Flynn, one of Orange County’s first superstar high school athletes who was nicknamed “The Ghost” for his speed, still cruises around town in his fire engine-red, 1947 two-door Ford Deluxe Coupe, which has a small painting of Mickey Mouse on the right front wheel frame.
He drove the classic car to Anaheim Fire & Rescue Station 5 on Friday, Sept. 7 — accompanied by his wife, Beth — to spend time with his grandson, now 36 and a firefighter paramedic and engineer.
Fulkerson said he never would be where he is without the help and support of his grandparents.
They let him live in their two-bedroom home for two years while he attended Fullerton College and, later, for several months as Fulkerson attended the fire academy at Santa Ana College.
“If it wasn’t for them,” Fulkerson said, “I would have been back in my hometown getting into trouble.”
Instead, Fulkerson is an especially appreciative grandson who today, Sept, 9, will be feeling even more love for Mickey and Beth Flynn. Grandparents Day is celebrated nationally on the first Sunday after Labor Day.
During his storied career at Anaheim High School, Flynn amassed 55 touchdowns. In 1957, he averaged an astonishing 13.8 yards per carry (3,681 yards on 266 carries – both CIF records at the time).
And Flynn was a standout player in what is considered one of the best and well-attended football games in local prep football history: the Dec. 14, 1956 CIF Championship game in which the AHS Colonists faced Downey High School.
A crowd believed to exceed 60,000 packed the L.A. Coliseum on a fog-shrouded day to watch the teams, both with 12-0 records that season, battle to a 13-13 tie.
“I hate ties,” said Flynn, who went on to play collegiately at Long Beach City College and Arizona State University. He and his first cousin, former New York Giants Coach Jim Fassel, are members of the Orange County Sports Hall of Fame.
Injuries prevented Flynn from playing football after college. He worked in heavy equipment construction for 36 years before retiring in 2000.
Flynn remains modest about his high school football career. When he played, AHS was the city’s only high school.
“I made all my yardage at halftime,” Flynn joked.
Fulkerson said his grandfather was an inspiration when he played football at Paloma Valley High.
Was Fulkerson as good as Flynn?
“I tried to be,” Fulkerson said, “but I was too slow.”
Flynn was on the coaching staff at Fullerton College when Fulkerson attended the school and played football for the Hornets in the 2001 and 2002 academic years.
Fulkerson kept quiet about his locally famous grandfather, who as a running back coach didn’t directly interact much with his grandson on the gridiron, but who nevertheless served as an inspiration.
Fulkerson decided to go into the fire service after meeting a firefighter while riding dirt bikes in the desert.
That firefighter is Orange County Fire Authority Engineer Robert Frick, who ran into Fulkerson about a year ago on a fire in Laguna Beach.
“‘Ah man, I did it,’” said Fulkerson, giving Frick a big hug.
The two hadn’t seen each other in years.
“He was so excited,” Fulkerson said.
When Fulkerson was going through the fire academy and living with his grandparents, Beth Flynn always made sure he had a hot meal on the table when he returned home at night — no matter what time it was.
Mickey Flynn said his grandson followed house rules and was a joy to have around.
Fulkerson worked for another fire agency after graduating from the academy. Anaheim Fire & Rescue hired him in 2006.
Fulkerson always wanted to serve in the city where his grandfather remains a living legend.
“At the academy, I felt they (Anaheim Fire & Rescue recruits) were a step above,” Fulkerson said. “If I was going to work anywhere, that’s where I wanted to work.”
Mickey and Beth Flynn, who have 19 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren (Fulkerson’s 2-year-old son, Connor, is their latest), continue to have ties to Anaheim High School. Both are on the board of the Anaheim High Alumni Association, where they raise money for AHS scholarships.
“They do more for Anaheim than most Anaheim residents,” Anaheim Fire & Rescue Community Engagement Manager Elsa Covarrubias said.
Asked why he made the trouble to attend all of his grandson’s high school football games, Flynn, a big Rams and USC fan, had a simple answer: