On November 2, the College of Health and Human Services will host the 2016 Community Heroes Awards to recognize the unsung heroes in our community whose actions, thoughts and words have had a transformative impact in our region. For the rest of the month, we will be highlighting our nine honorees in our Community Heroes Series.
Name: Jim Santos
Occupation: Communications Professor, University of Phoenix
Nominated by: Central California Sports Science Institute
Personal hero: “My wife, Carolyn, who has been my rock for 53 years, and has raised our developmentally challenged son while I balanced many careers.“
Nestled on a quiet street in Northwest Fresno is Inspiration Park. Built in October 2015, it is the first universally accessible park available in California, designed for children and adults with special needs. Innovative and creative features make it possible for everyone, regardless of abilities, to get some physical activity.
The founder of that park is Fresno State alumnus, Jim Santos. The inspiration for the creation of the park was his son, Dallas, who has developmental challenges. Through the park, Santos wanted to create a safe area for all kids to play in, including his son.
Promoting physical fitness for youth and athletes of all abilities has been a lifelong passion of his during his momentous 55-year career, where he has not only accomplished his dream, but he has done so in a way that has changed the lives of countless others.
He got his start in athletics in high school, where he played basketball and track. He would later go on to attend Fresno State, and join the track and field team as a hurdler and serve as the manager of the basketball team for three years.
Following his graduation from Fresno State in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education, Santos went on to coach all over the world and even serve as a vital player in the women’s athletic movement at the time. In 1964, he started the first women’s track and field program in Oregon.
He returned to his California roots in 1972 to coach Cal State Hayward’s (now known as California State University, East Bay) women’s track and field team. Just one year later, the team won the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women national championship, cementing the first conference championship in any sport for the University. Due to his success with the Hayward women’s team, Santos was named the National Women’s Coach of the Year in 1973.
But the accolades didn’t stop there. In 1977, Santos led Hayward’s men’s track and field team to an NCAA Division II championship, earning him the Division II Men’s Coach of the Year Honors that same year. Following that, he able to join the U.S National Men’s Team coaching staff in 1977, 1979 and 1980 for tours in Europe leading up the 1980 Olympic Games.
In 1980, Santos became the field events coach of the U.S Olympic Men’s team, which he notes as one of the proudest moments of his coaching career.
“Being a track coach at a Division II non-scholarship school at Hayward was most humbling joining the elite coaches from the major college ranks,” Santos said.
Afterwards, Santos would spend the next 18 years of his career as the director of athletics for Special Olympics International in Washington, D.C., where he created programs for children and adults with special needs. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics, said of Santos, “His influence and energy was always the magic that moved our families and coaches in the Special Olympics, not only in the United States, but around the world.”
After a very long and successful career, Santos retired from the Special Olympics in 2000.
During that time, he established the Navy Run Jump ‘n’ Throw Program. The program, which is designed to enhance physical fitness in youth, currently serves more than 12 million students from first through twelfth grade, including students with and without disabilities.
Santos was honored for his work with an induction into the U.S Track and Field Coaches National Hall of Fame in 2005, and the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013.
Never one to slow down, Santos still stays involved in the community, where he currently serves on the Dean’s Council of Ambassadors for the College of Health and Human Services at Fresno State, and as the area chair for the College of Humanities at the University of Phoenix. In addition he volunteers with the Northern California Special Olympics Program for Fresno County, and as a mentor in the ‘Boots to Business’ program, which serves men and women leaving Lemoore Naval Airforce Base to go into business after their careers in the U.S. Navy.
He also leads sports, and track and field clinics for coaches and athletes. To date, he has conducted more than 2,000 of these clinics. For the past 19 years Jim has been an instructor for the University of Phoenix sharing his academic background and motivation to hundreds of students for the past 19 years in Fresno, Northern California, and Baltimore, Maryland.
Regardless of his many accomplishments, Santos notes that his proudest moment was when his daughter, Kelly Weiler, graduated from college and became a special education teacher, having been inspired by her brother and father.
The 2016 Community Heroes Awards, which celebrates heroes from each of the seven academic departments, as well as centers and institutes within our college, will be held on November 2, 2016 at Fresno State. For more information on the event, contact Sandra Daily at 559.278.3603 or firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.