Vince Wesson was but a fifth-grader at Tarpey Elementary School in 1974 when he embraced a competitive model that was about to explode in Clovis Unified District.
The seed of that spirit was planted in the form of a one-page newsletter, noting standings of its elementary teams in football, volleyball and cross country. It even included predictions of their Friday football games against each other.
It was a motivational tool to get students involved, the administrative ingenuity of Floyd “Doc” Buchanan.
“I couldn’t wait for that newsletter to come out,” Wesson said. “That sparked the competition factor for me. And that model that Doc brought for guys like me was my fondest memory, the pinnacle.”
Never miss a local story.
Dr. Buchanan, who served as the district’s 31-year superintendent until 1991, died overnight Monday. He was 91.
He powered into construction a “no-excuse” athletic empire that has grown into five high schools, typically captures 70 to 80 percent of top-division titles in the Central Section, and represents a gamut of facilities, maintenance, administrators, coaches and well-groomed athletes unrivaled in the state.
His legacy will carry on in that district for the next 50 years.
CIF Executive Director Roger Blake
“Second to none,” said Roger Blake, executive director of the California Interscholastic Federation.
So increasingly impressed has the CIF been by Clovis Unified’s operation and management ability, the district hosts three state championships – cross country at Woodward Park; track and field in Veterans Memorial Stadium at Buchanan High (the icon’s namesake); and swimming and diving at Clovis West.
“In my job for 20 years with the CIF, while traveling around the state,” Blake said Tuesday from CIF headquarters in Sacramento, “I’ve always heard about all this great stuff about Clovis Unified. But to actually to watch and see it – hey, they just don’t talk the talk, they walk the walk.”
There’s little to suggest a weakening of the empire is in order, and perhaps the most enduring factor of all is the district’s ability not only to recycle its own, but to bring back former student-athletes as teachers, coaches and administrators long conditioned on Buchanan’s fundamentals.
Coby Lindsey’s a prime example. The 1987 Clovis West male Athlete of the Year and current Clovis North athletic director is the son of former longtime Clovis Unified administrators Dennis and Ann Lindsey.
“Where most people sit around the dinner table discussing the latest TV show,” Coby Lindsey said, “my parents would talk about high expectations and competition – all the things Doc talked about. Doc was a dynamic, bold guy.”
Above all, Dr. Buchanan possessed people skills that Lindsey questions will ever be replicated in the area: “He knew thousands of people, yet he always made you feel like you had your own relationship with him.”
Consider what Dr. Buchanan did for Wesson, who before he played football at Fresno State was a three-sport star was at Clovis High named San Joaquin Valley Athlete of the Year by The Bee in 1982: “I received a letter (of congratulations) from Doc, very sincere and hand-written.”
Fowler High football coach Kyle Biggs was a section record-breaking quarterback for a championship Clovis team in 1997, but he felt Dr. Buchanan’s impact long before: “I was in third grade at Cole Elementary and I remember the day he walked into our classroom. It was like the president coming to school.”
He came for no rhyme or reason but to show his support and let kids know he cared about them.
Fowler High football coach Kyle Biggs, former CUSD student-athlete
Dr. Buchanan, right through last June, could routinely be found ringside at many Clovis Unified sports events; he had a particular affinity for wrestling. And perhaps it was no coincidence that the district has won 17 team titles – 13 by Clovis alone – in the 43-year history of the state tournament.
“He’s the bedrock of wrestling in Clovis Unified,” said Clovis coach Steve Tirapelle, whose program has won the past five state crowns and hosts an annual national-class tournament, the Doc Buchanan Invitational. And it was there that Buchanan, including last winter, could be counted on presenting customary cowboy hats to the individual champions.
It was all about the Dr. Buchanan-instilled district pride and “no-excuse” stance that extended to coaches after he grew tired early in his career as superintendent, in the 1960s, of Fresno schools beating up on Clovis – the district’s only high school at the time.
So Dr. Buchanan presented the mandate to his coaches: “What do you need?”
And, before they could hardly answer, he launched into action a districtwide athletic plan replete with resources: from on-campus coaches and structured programs in elementary school to college-like facilities not only built typically big and brilliant but maintained as such.
“As a coach, you never feel like you’re lacking,” said Mike Noel, a former Clovis West football/baseball standout now 559-174-5 with six section softball titles in 21 years at Clovis. “Certainly in athletics, he set up Clovis Unified to be successful. He taught us what it was about to compete; it’s been ingrained with how we do things in the district.”
As an athlete and coach, you feel so special when you’re on those facilities, having what you need to accomplish the things you want to do.
Clovis softball coach Mike Noel
Keen on Dr. Buchanan’s approach for years was Donnie Arax, a Bullard all-league lineman in the early ’80s and now back for his 16th season as football coach for the Knights of Fresno Unified.
“We had a swimming pool built in the ’50s,” Arax says. “And his message to the Bullard community – and when he spoke, they listened – it was ‘Hey, guys, you’ve got to build good facilities to keep your top kids.’ Doc was brilliant, but the essence of his message was simple: Build facilities, great activities, great athletics and people will come.
“I spent a lot of hours on the phone with him before that meeting, asking for advice. We coaches are thieves; we find good techniques and plays and copy them,” Arax said. “All anyone in this Valley has to do is look at the example Doc set – discipline, athletics, activities. It’s right there in front of your face.”
It’s been closer than that for Tim Simons, the Clovis Unified football coach football coach for 40 years, Fresno Athletic Hall of Famer and former Fresno State assistant to Pat Hill.
And, today, Simons – as Arax, as Blake, as Wesson, as well all do – can only applaud.
“When I was young, I didn’t appreciate the visionary person Doc was; it took me a few years,” Simons says. “The foundation for programs, the accountability, the culture he developed – he was so far ahead of his time.
“When I recruited at Fresno State, I visited hundreds and hundreds of high schools in California and Nevada. Never did I see a district comparable to Clovis Unified and, really, Doc deserved all the credit. He was unique, a truly extraordinary educator.”