Player, coach and administrator. Jim Fenwick did almost everything in the sports world. And on Dec. 31, he’ll call it a day as he’s set to retire as Valley College’s athletic director.
In a Zoom interview, Fenwick, who was head coach of the Pierce football program from 1981 to 1986, mentioned the reasoning behind his decision to step down.
“A lot of things come to mind. Many years of teaching and coaching and you build up all those years and you look around you and see what was accomplished,” Fenwick said. A lot of factors go into this, for example how many years you have left. That you have the opportunity to look at other things to do while you still can. Family also plays a role in the decision.”
Fenwick mentioned that he wants to spend more time with his loved ones, especially with his grandchildren.
His 1984 team had the perfect season finishing 10-0, which had former NFL player Erik Kramer as the quarterback.
“I wouldn’t be where I was without the people who made it possible,” Fenwick said. “We had a great combination of assistant coaches that are still good friends of mine. Everything came together and Kramer sat out his first year and became a good quarterback. We had some talented players on defense and we were very physical on offense and defense.”
The program made it to the Potato Bowl, however costly mistakes prevented them from beating Taft College.
That team went into the Pierce Hall of Fame in 2012 with Fenwick being inducted as a coach. Two years later, he went in individually.
“It is nice to be recognized for your success and nobody would be able to take away what you accomplished including the relationships you develop over time. It was nice to go in as a team,” Fenwick said. “I always felt uncomfortable going in as an individual. Because there is no way you can accomplish things without help from all of the players and coaches.”
As a player, he played running back with fellow Pierce Hall of Famers Mark Harmon and Jimmy Allen. He transferred to Wichita State University where he got his degree in Education.
Fenwick described his experience playing for the program and playing for head coach Jim Pendleton.
“When I was a junior our team [Cleveland High] played against coach Pendleton in the City Section Playoffs, so I knew many of the LA High kids. When I attended Pierce and he was head coach, many of those players on the roster were from schools that we played against so we were like an all-star team,” Fenwick said.
After playing at Wichita, Fenwick realized that he wouldn’t have the speed or size to play in the pros and he stayed to be an assistant coach in the program.
Fenwick said Pendleton brought him back to Pierce to be one of the assistant coaches and is grateful because he recruited him.
Fenwick coached other schools such as CSUN, University of New Mexico, Eastern Oregon University, Miami University (Ohio) and the University of Pacific.
In 1986, Fenwick had an unpleasant surprise. He was involuntarily transferred to LA Valley College due to Prop 13 shuffling teachers around.
“The district had to layoff a bunch of employees and I was one of the five or six to be transferred out of my department and we were sent to other schools in the district in order to continue being employed,” Fenwick said.
Fenwick mentioned it was hard to go to Valley because of the rivalry they had with Pierce, but he said they welcomed him pretty well.
He coached the football program and then became athletic director for the Monarchs. Fenwick was thankful for the support received which allowed Valley to play in four consecutive postseason games.
“We had tremendous support from the people above. I was fortunate to have a vice president and dean of athletics who were former athletes. They supported the program and allowed me to hire the right coaches which allowed us to recruit well,” Fenwick said.
Fenwick said that being athletic director is a humbling experience and is confident whoever gets named will do a great job.
He said most likely an interim athletic director will be named with the search starting in the spring.
In 2004, he was diagnosed with leukemia. Chemotherapy and other treatments weren’t working until he enrolled in a clinical trial using a partial bone marrow match from his son Casey.
Fenwick was shocked when he first heard of the diagnosis and mentioned it was a rollercoaster of emotions for the family.
“I was always active and healthy. I’m not considered to be a smoker or drinker. You have to drop everything and focus on your health,” Fenwick said. “Went through battles at different hospitals and the treatments weren’t working.
Fenwick said they were denied and turned away by many hospitals. However when they came up with the clinic trail, it was an experiment and his last resort before being sent home.
“So they took the bone marrow from my youngest son and another round of heavy chemo and radiation to prepare your body and then you have the transplant and that’s day zero. It was rewarding at the end of the day because it worked,” Fenwick said.
Fenwick said he is thankful for all the messages and prayers that were sent during that time.
Former Pierce athletic director Bob Lofrano said Fenwick was a great colleague to work with.
“We were athletic directors around the same time. I retired three years ago and he is about to this year,” Lofrano said. I wish him all the best in his retirement.”
Lofrano said Fenwick’s resume as a coach was hall of fame material. He mentioned there are several members of the Pierce Hall of Fame that have been inducted more than once.
He said even though Fenwick was at Valley College, his roots are from Pierce.
Interim Athletic Director Susan Armenta in an email wrote that Fenwick will have a long legacy at Pierce.
“He developed a successful program at Pierce. It’s awesome to have alumni come back to their stomping ground to teach and coach. Aside from that, he’s been a respected educator, coach, and administrator in the community,” Armenta wrote.
Armenta mentioned Fenwick was a huge help especially when she stepped in into a major role.
“He was one of the first in the district to lend a hand and offered to help in my transition to interim athletic director. We’ve worked well together along with the other AD’s in the district towards getting support for our coaches and staff this year,” Armenta wrote.
Fenwick sent a message to the coaches, players and fellow colleagues and wished them the best.
“It was a good ride. A heartfelt thank you to past alumni, administrators, students and teachers. They have been so helpful more than they realized. At the end of the day I feel great and I know the program is in good hands,” Fenwick said.