Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
As construction crews work to rebuild Mel Parker Field’s backstop, Madera High School athletic director John Fernandez stands in the dugout. Fernandez is in his dream job trying to help Madera athletes succeed.
Work first, play later is the motto for Madera High athletics director John Fernandez.
Fernandez, 44, a Madera native, has returned to his alma mater after spending nine years teaching and coaching at Madera South High School. With contributions from the staff and community, Fernandez is bringing some exciting new enhancements to the athletic program.
For Fernandez, it is all about opportunity for the younger generations and making sure student athletes are heading in the right direction.
“When you get into education it is about making impacts. It’s not about making money. It’s about making a difference in people’s lives,” Fernandez said. “With athletics, now as the athletic director, I think what kind of positive impacts can I make in the lives of our student athletes, our coaches and in our community.”
Fernandez played football in high school, but baseball was his main sport. After graduating, he went off to play baseball at Fresno City College, which led to an unfortunate injury, ending his career.
But this wasn’t the end of sports for Fernandez. He decided to return to Madera High as a walk-on coach and progressed through coaching, helping to lead the varsity baseball team to a Valley Championship in 1996.
Fernandez said his call to coaching came after his athletic career.
“I fell in love,” Fernandez said. “It was a way for me to still be part of the game and then that changed to giving back.”
After 13 years of coaching at Madera High, Fernandez got the opportunity to build a program from the ground up at Madera South in the 2005-2006 school year. Marty Bitter, athletic director for Madera South at the time, approached Fernandez to coach baseball for the brand-new high school.
In his last year at Madera South, Fernandez was informed that an athletic director and vice principal position opened up at Kerman High. He applied and got the job, but after three short weeks, Bitter, now Madera Unified School District athletic director, told Fernandez the athletic director position at Madera High opened up and recommended he apply.
“It was a tough call because I was just getting my feet wet at Kerman, but this is my home so I went for it,” Fernandez said. “After the most intense interview process I had been through as a professional, I was very fortunate to be selected to return to my alma mater.”
During the coaching portion of his career at Madera South, Fernandez shadowed Bitter and Andrea Devine, Madera South’s athletic director.
“Being an athletic director always piqued my interest,” Fernandez said. “Shadowing them allowed me to get insight and gain some experience about the position, understanding the ins and outs. I am very blessed to have had those opportunities and very fortunate to bring that back to my alma mater.”
In August 2015, Fernandez started his new career as athletic director for Madera High.
Bitter said he was the ideal fit for the position because of his love for Madera.
“He is an extremely hard worker,” Bitter said “He is organized, a good communicator and all those traits are traits that are going to make a successful athletic director. Those are primarily the reasons he won the job.”
Fernandez was always a passionate person who believed that working hard is the key to success.
“The more effort and hard work you put into it, the more success you will have,” Fernandez said. “When adversity hits me in the face, I don’t look to go around it, under it or over it, I like to go right through it. I believe that is what makes me a better person, a stronger person.”
Fernandez is now channeling his inspirations into the students and doing whatever he can to make sure they get the opportunities they deserve.
Although Fernandez has only been athletic director for a short period of time, he is determined to enhance all athletic programs and open doors for younger kids to prepare them for their future in sports.
Irma Rios, Fernandez’s former administrative assistant, has been working with him since he returned to Madera High.
“He is passionate with the athletic department,” Rios said. “He is an alumnus with the school. He is passionate in helping out students and student athletes here.”
Fernandez and Rios have been working hard to help students get more organized and ready for the steps after high school.
Rios said Fernandez is doing a “good job” trying to provide more for the students by implementing awards so everyone gets a chance to be recognized. Fernandez has helped build the CHAMPS awards (committed, hardworking, attitude, motivated, positive, successful), which recognize athletes in each sport. He also supports monthly awards from local club Active 20-30 International, which recognizes athletes of the month.
But that isn’t the only thing Fernandez is bringing to the table. With the help from Rios, the athletic department was awarded a $10,000 grant from The James Irvine Foundation and Wells Fargo.
Fernandez used that money to set up workstations with three new computers and a 55-inch monitor that will showcase athletes and upcoming events.
Fernandez calls this the “eligibility center.” It is for students and families to come, sit and take time to register and create a profile to check NCAA eligibility.
Fernandez said the school started holding workshops after school in the library with counselors and presentations on NCAA to explain all the requirements in each division and also in NAIA (National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics).
“One thing I want to showcase to the students and their families is there are opportunities out there,” Fernandez said. “If your child is being successful in class and being successful on the field, let’s find a school that they can move on to.”
Fernandez said the athletic program is making tremendous strides with the workshops. The number of student participants more than tripled last fall. He said the program started with freshman and sophomores because he wanted to expose them to these opportunities early.
Fernandez said come signing day his goal is to have the whole cafeteria stage filled with students signing their letters of intent.
In addition to the eligibility center, Fernandez is working on rebuilding the baseball backstop along with improving the bleachers, snack bar and restrooms. He is also working to fix the softball infield.
Fernandez reaches out to youth programs like The First Tee, which prepares elementary and middle school kids to play golf in high school. He is also starting to improve the aquatics program at Madera High with the intention to get middle schools kids interested in water sports.
Fernandez is determined to support his community as a whole. He is working with Madera South and the district to make the students, at every age level, aware of all the possible opportunities.
“We want to continue to grow,” Fernandez said. “Not just here at our high school, but within the whole district.”
Bitter said Fernandez’s qualities of trustworthiness, organization and strong
communication skills separate him from others.
“You have to have a passion for kids, a passion for your job and you have to be self-motivated,” Bitter said. “That is what separates him and that is what is going to make him succeed.”
While working closely with the community and colleagues, Fernandez is committed to giving back to students. He is driven by the smile on the kids’ faces and the many opportunities he wants to provide for them.
Katie Gogo is a student in Gary Rice’s community journalism class at California State University, Fresno.