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Michael Connors Was a Big Brother for Thousands of Fresno Youth

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Michael "Big Mike" Connors had a larger-than-life personality that enabled him to connect with thousands of students over 30 years. (Facebook/MHS Express)
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Michael Connors died Tuesday night, along with his girlfriend Rene Smith, in a motorcycle accident, after watching the city of Fresno’s fireworks show at McLane Stadium.

Portrait of GV Wire News Director Bill McEwen

Bill McEwen

Opinion

It was a big loss for Fresno Unified students, especially those at McLane High School, where Connors was a campus safety assistant.

Connors, 55, was a big man with a big heart whose contributions largely flew under the radar during his 30 years with the district. But thousands of kids respected and appreciated him during his stints at Roosevelt, Bullard, DeWolf, Duncan Poly, Hoover, and McLane.

This gift of being able to reach the young paid off at home, too. A single dad, he raised a daughter who became a straight-A student.

Others knew him from the gym, where he took out life’s frustrations by lifting heavy weights. He also had dozens of friends in the motorcycle community. They held a memorial for him the night after the fatal collision near Clinton and Chestnut avenues. And, on Friday night, McLane students and faculty gathered at the school fountain to pay tribute to Connors.

Always Tried to Pay It Forward

Friends described him as someone who always tried to pay it forward and used his natural ability to connect with troubled teens to put them on a path to success.

“All the kids had a special place for Mike, especially as a male role model in their life because they didn’t have one,” wrote Stephanie Vasquez, who worked with Connors, in a Facebook post.

“He always had my back and supported me no matter what. Especially when intervening in any altercations between students.”

Said Fresno Unified in a statement to GV Wire: “We extend our sincerest condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Mr. Mike Connors, who tragically passed away on July 4th. His passing has left a hole in the hearts of many, and his legacy will be felt for years to come. We are grateful for his 30 years of dedicated service as a campus safety assistant and the undeniable positive influence he had on countless students who saw Mike as a great mentor.”

A Physical Presence With a Sense of Humor

In heated situations, Connors relied on a reservoir of phrases to lower the temperature, friends said. One example: “Wanna fight? Join the army!”

Mike Haynes worked with Connors at Hoover High and they formed a lasting friendship. “We lost a really good man,” he said.

Haynes shed light on Connors’ larger-than-life personality with a story about when he caught COVID and was hospitalized at Saint Agnes Medical Center. The tale might be apocryphal or it could be absolutely true. That’s how it is with guys like “Big Mike.” In this case, family members confirmed that it, indeed, happened.

After being rushed there in an ambulance because of breathing difficulties, Connors was put into an induced coma. Later, when he was better, Haines said, Connors ripped out his IVs and walked home because he was hungry. Friends got him hamburgers, which he devoured with appreciation.

“It took him a long time to get back up, but being that sick was a wake-up call,” Haynes said. “He dropped from 305 pounds to 245, changed his diet, and took up bicycle riding.”

According to Haynes, Connors then reunited with Smith, a former high school girlfriend,  and they planned a future together. Smith also worked with young people. She started as a substitute school teacher at Clovis United in 2016 and became a school psychologist for the district in 2019.

“She has been a valuable member of our CUSD family and will be sorely missed. Our team is here to support her family, our students, and her co-workers during this difficult time,” the district said in a statement to GV Wire.

Haynes said that Connors had contemplated retiring after this most recent school year and moving to Oregon, but he decided to put in a couple more years to bolster his retirement savings.

The little red Honda motorcycle that he and Smith were killed on Tuesday night was bought as a learn-to-ride bike for Smith.

“People look at me funny riding this little bike,” Connors told friends.

But comments like that didn’t bother Connors. He probably thought he looked funny riding it, too.

Michael Connors and Rene Smith were killed while riding together on this trail bike on July 4, 2023, in Fresno. (Screen Capture/yourcentralvalley.com)

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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