Clovis Unified’s newest elementary school will honor Satoshi “Fibber” Hirayama, a standout athlete at Fresno State, professional baseball player, and longtime district employee who was the first principal of Gateway High School.
The board voted unanimously Wednesday night to name the new school at Fowler and McKinley avenues for Hirayama, who was locked up during World War II in an American detention camp with his family and other Japanese-American families but overcame those deprivations to excel academically and in athletics, trustees said.
Hirayama was also the unanimous choice of the board committee members who also considered school names such as Harvest, Golden Hills, and Independence as well as other people of note.
The committee wanted to name the new school for someone who is a part of Clovis Unified’s history, said Dr. Steven Fogg, who served on the committee with Trustees Clint Olivier and Hugh Awtrey.
Fogg said he learned some of Satoshi Hirayama’s personal history from his son Brian. The senior Hirayama grew up poor in Exeter, and at the age of 12 he and his family were sent to a detention camp.
“He had three years of learning loss — does that sound familiar?” Fogg said. “… This young man, who had everything against him, went through great learning loss, yet somehow he rose above it. That’s the kind of example that I want to put up on a plaque on the school.”
As to how he got the nickname “Fibber,” Olivier said Hirayama’s father had difficulty pronouncing his birth month, February. “He just said Fibber. And that name stuck from his infancy and it lasted 91 years (until his death in 2021),” Olivier said.
Top Athlete at Fresno State
Although he was only 5-foot-3 and weighed 140 pounds, Hirayama was a star athlete at Fresno State, where he played baseball and football. He was drafted by the St. Louis Browns baseball team but had to put his career on hold when he was drafted and served with the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He later played baseball and was an all-star in Japan, where he played for the Hiroshima Carp.
In 2017 he became the 11th player to have his jersey retired by the Fresno State baseball program. He also was inducted into the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame and Clovis Unified Hall of Fame.
His career at Clovis Unified included teaching at Clovis High School, working as a human resources leader under the district’s founding superintendent, Floyd “Doc” Buchanan, and serving as Gateway’s first principal until he retired in 1991.
Hirayama Elementary is scheduled to open in August 2024. It will be the district’s first school named after a Japanese-American. The gymnasium at Gateway already bears his name.