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The Fans of Chiefs "American Family" Fun Day

A spotlight on a few unique fans with many unique stories

August 8 was "American Family" Fun Day at Chiefs Training Camp, and the crowds turned out in record numbers. But aside from the fun and the football, the stories of the day belonged to the fans and their families.

Carl and Zeke

Carl Lee of Paragould, Arkansas watches the receiver drills as he recalls his favorite season with the Chiefs—2003.

"It was the year when the Chiefs went 13-3 under Dick Vermeil," Carl says. "We won the division and lost to the Colts in the postseason at our place."

Then Carl delves into the memory turned history of the 1990s in Kansas City, a time when football reigned and the AFC West was a different world.

"I liked all of the players," Carl says. "Derrick Thomas had his eight-sack game. Priest Holmes was a monster. Trent Green was a great quarterback."

Carl has been a fan of the franchise ever since they became the Chiefs in 1963. And his grandson, 4-year-old Zeke Bateman, takes after him.

Zeke says his favorite player is Alex Smith, and that someday he will be a quarterback just like him. He then goes on to say he loves all the players—but not before reciting their numbers as well.

Carl points to his two tattoos—arrowheads on both of his arms. So Zeke flashes his—one on each arm, and then one-ups his grandfather with one on his leg. Next comes his mean face, like he's going in for a tackle.

Zeke is a prime example of generations, and how tradition, like love, always finds a way—a lot of what "American Family" Fun Day is about. On top of rooting for your favorite team, of course.

When Carl speaks of the 2015 season his eyes light up, while Zeke tries to stifle a grin, still a little shy.

"We're going to go places with Andy Reid this year."

Mike and Jeff

Mike Bonarek and his son, Jeff, drove around 400 miles from Chicago to Kansas City to watch the White Sox play the Royals on August 7. The next morning, they found themselves at the Chiefs training camp.

"I'm an AFC fan and a football fan," Mike says.

He is not a Kingdom member, but an undercover Bears fan. Mike states he can appreciate "good football," though.

Then he turns and adds, "Life's about experiences. Do something you've never done before."

Jeff seems to nod his head a little as Mike continues gushing about him and his son's bonding trip. Jeff is newly married and has just bought his first house, a topic Mike introduces with pride. They are on the homestretch back to Chicago, but Mike always has time for a pit stop with his son.

Mike says when he's gone, he wants his son to be able to have these memories.

Life* is* about experiences. What Mike left out is it's about experiences with those you love.

Tim and Kim

When asked where from, Tim and Kim Bernard look at each other and laugh while saying, "Saint Joseph."

When asked their names, Tim states his last name and says, "Just like the dog" while giving a little howl. This causes Kim to giggle.

Five years ago when Kansas City Chiefs training camp began coming to Missouri Western, so did Tim and Kim. But five years ago, everything was different.

Kim is a five-year stage IV colon cancer survivor, and she tells me this with sheer pride. The couple came to training camp in the middle of her treatments just to be here for the team they love.

So when the Kansas City Chiefs signed a new five-year extension with the college, the organization also gave Tim and Kim another five years of their tradition and another five years of enjoying each other's company through it.

Dana, Mark and Zach

Dana Zessin remembers her little Chiefs player.

"My son has been a Chiefs fan since he could walk," Dana says. "He ran around in his jersey and costume pads and costume hat that was way too big for him."

Dana and Mark are a quieter couple, not overly drenched in Chiefs wear. The couple had driven all the way from Great Bend, Kansas to make it to training camp. Mark holds a couple footballs in a box with an address already on it, while Dana holds a sign that reads, "Jamaal- Hello from Afghanistan."

Now it is obvious: they have a story to tell.

"I took him to his first game when he was 16 in Kansas City against Denver," Dana continues. "He was just totally thrilled. Then his dad brought him to a couple of games last year, and he got to come down to two or three games last year before he went into the Army."

"He" is Dana and Mark's son, Zach Zessin, a combat medic with the United States Army. Zach is currently deployed in Afghanistan where he supports the surgical team—and Jamaal Charles.

"He wanted to be here today, but he was insistent that I come instead to try and get Jamaal's autograph for him," Dana says. "He'd like to have everybody's."

Zach has been a Charles fan ever since he was a running back at the University of Texas.

"Even when the Chiefs didn't do so well a couple seasons ago, [Zach] was still watching because Jamaal was there," Dana says. "He was heartbroken when [Charles] was sidelined with injuries."

Fortunately for Zach, the Chiefs all-time leading rusher is healthy and back tearing up the practice fields at Missouri Western State in preparation for another stellar season.

"We've just really enjoyed watching the man run," Dana says. "Jamaal's a good role model for the kids, and he's just fun. He zigs and zags and goes around everybody."

After the autograph session, Dana and Mike have planned to mail Zach the two footballs and a VIP nametag created for him to keep.

"It's all about what we are doing here and what's going on at home to him," Dana says. "I'm sure he'll be thrilled."

Dana says Zach deployed about a month ago and plans for him to return next March during the offseason, which will give him plenty of time to prepare for the 2016 Chiefs training camp.

Uniting a family, halfway around the world.

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