Satoshi “Fibber” Hirayama (1930-2021)

CLOVIS, Fresno County —  Clovis Unified School District’s newest school will bear the name Satoshi “Fibber” Hirayama Elementary in honor of a long-time Clovis Unified teacher and leader, and ground-breaking Japanese American.

The CUSD Governing Board announced the name March 15, following months of community input and suggestions regarding what to name the district’s 35th elementary school now under construction at Fowler and McKinley avenues.

Hirayama, who worked for the district from 1965 to 1991 and passed away in 2021, represents those educators who work in the classroom, those who lead schools and departments, and the district’s classified staff whom he worked with as a human resources leader under founding Superintendent Floyd “Doc” Buchanan. 

He was a teacher at Clovis High School, the first principal of Gateway High School, and devoted a large part of his career to helping disenfranchised students overcome challenges and excel.

Hirayama grew up in Exeter, where his family worked on a farm. His nickname came from his Issei father’s inability the pronounce “February,” the month of his birth. As a Japanese American who was incarcerated in Poston, Ariz. by the government at the age of 12 during World War II and overcame that challenge to excel academically and athletically, Hirayama is an example of perseverance.

A highly successful student athlete in baseball and football at Fresno State, he led the university in 1952 to its first-ever NCAA postseason appearance. Hirayama set single-season and career school records in stolen bases that would not be surpassed until 1987 by Tom Goodwin. In 2017, he became the 11th player to have his number retired by Fresno State’s baseball program.

Fibber Hirayama of the Hiroshima Carp with New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel in 1955, when the two teams played each other in Japan. (Nisei Baseball Research Project)

One of the first Japanese American players to sign with a Major League Baseball Club, Hirayama signed a professional contract with the St. Louis Browns after college and spent the 1952 season with the Stockton Ports, only to put his career on hold to serve in the U.S. Army. From 1953 to 1955, he continued playing baseball as a soldier at Fort Ord.

He went on to become the first Japanese American player in Japan’s professional baseball league at the insistence of Japanese American baseball legend Kenichi Zenimura. Hirayama played for the Hiroshima Carp in the Central League and was an All-Star twice, but his career was cut short by an injury. He spent three years coaching and one year managing in the Japanese minor leagues before returning to the U.S. Back in California, he worked as a scout for the California Angels as well as the Carp.

Hirayama was inducted into the CUSD Athletic Hall of Fame in 2018.

The naming of the school after Hirayama also celebrates the important role the Japanese American community has played in the Central Valley.

Laura Reynolds will be the first principal of Hirayama Elementary School. She was appointed last November and will assume full-time duties starting in July. She has more than 19 years in education, and is currently serving as principal of Miramonte Elementary School.

Learn more about the new school on its website:

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