The year was 1964 and the Fresno State Track and Field team had just won their first national NCAA title under the direction of legendary head coach, Dutch Warmerdam.
Among the collegiate athletes celebrating the championship was alumnus Joe Herzog, who graduated with his bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology that same year.
Born and raised in Southern California, Herzog grew up body surfing and running at famed Venice Beach. His passion for the sport of track and field brought him to Fresno to run in the West Coast Relays during the early 1960s while in junior college. The atmosphere in Fresno ignited his decision to pursue collegiate athletics and academics at Fresno State.
“[Fresno] was such an extraordinary atmosphere,” Herzog said. “When I went home, I told my parents ‘I know where I’m going to school now’”.
While keeping up with his studies in physical education, Herzog ran for Fresno State’s track and field team for three years, competing in the 800-meter, relay, and mile or two-mile event. He speaks modestly of his time on the team, giving most of the credit to his teammates.
“I picked teammates that were really good, and I went along for the ride,” Herzog said with a laugh. “When we first got our [championship] rings I didn’t wear it for a while, but now I wear it every day.”
Off the field, Herzog taught with the same tenacity as he did competing in track and field. For 36 years, he taught physical education at Fresno Unified School District, spending 27 years at the middle school level and another nine years at the high school level. His willingness to excite students about physical education is what drove his long career as a physical educator. Through his teaching, he implemented interdisciplinary studies into the P.E. curriculum – and even taught fly fishing, dry skiing, and fencing to seventh and eighth graders.
“Middle school kids are great,” Herzog said. “They love new and novel, crazy things, so that’s what we did. At the time, standard physical education curriculum for a long time was flag football, soccer, and things that were team-orientated, and involved a ball. If a student didn’t have good hand-eye coordination skills, they could get discouraged fast. So I stopped teaching anything that involved a ball and it expanded their understanding of the world.”
Many of Herzog’s classes focused on action-based learning, with field trips to China Peak, where they learned to dry ski. He even took them out to the Kings River, where they learned to fly fish. For many of the students, this was their first time seeing the nature that exists just outside of the Fresno city limits.
“A lot of the kids from Southeast Fresno had never seen snow before and didn’t even know the Kings River existed,” Herzog said. “If you can teach seventh-graders to fly fish, you can teach them anything.”
Herzog and his wife, Dovey Herzog, also a Fresno State Kinesiology alumna, met at Fresno Unified’s Hamilton Middle School in 1974 where they were both teaching P.E. and coaching. Their combined teaching and coaching career spanned many decades, which Herzog attributes to the stellar education they received at Fresno State.
“We both ended up with really positive athletic coaching careers and were able to establish a lot of innovation in Fresno Unified,” Herzog said. “There has been a lot of change in physical education since then, but the education that we got was really good and the motivation to go out into the field and to be upfront and creative served us well.”
Dovey, a game changer in her own right, was the 1983 California High School Coach of the Year for Women’s Track and Field and coached her teams to win six Fresno city titles. With those titles came a lot of hard work and dedication.
“P.E. teaching can really affect your life and you have to be careful about not overloading,” Herzog said. “Teachers are going to teach and almost assuredly going to coach, so it’s not hard to work 70-80 hours a week. We had a lot of family support which was beneficial.”
After a long career in P.E. and coaching, the Herzog’s are now enjoying a more relaxed atmosphere, but remain eager about the future for P.E. and what is in store for the next generation.
“Over time, with all the neuroscience that has come into the field, it’s changed everything we know about how kids learn,” Herzog said. “I would really like to see kinesthetic classrooms become a standard, where you have movement in the classroom, which can help students who have trouble paying attention. If you put an exercise bike in the back of the classroom, just five minutes on the bike and they are good for about an hour and half. It produces serotonin and dopamine – all the feel-good neurons.”
Staying involved with the University is not difficult for a dedicated alumnus like Herzog. He remains active with many University events like Day of Giving and providing alumni support during commencement. He also guest lectures in the Department of Kinesiology and continues to advocate at the local, regional and state level for the field of physical education. He even once served as the regional chair and legislative chair for the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
In 2012, Herzog was recognized as a College of Health and Human Services’ Hero, for his dedication and tireless work in the field of Kinesiology and community involvement in programs like Break the Barriers and Building Healthy Communities.
For Herzog, empowering future physical educators and giving back is important to him. He wants the next generation of teachers to be motivated by change and all the possibilities the future holds within P.E.
A piece of advice he gives to current physical education students is:
“Keep an open mind. P.E. today is not what it was years ago. It’s changing and we are at the forefront of that change. Don’t be afraid of it. Embrace it. In the palm of your hand you have the ability to change lives in a very unique way.”
– Written by CHHS Communication Student Assistant, Rebeca Flores, and CHHS Communication Specialist, Melissa Tav
Great stuff! Joe was a huge influence on me and my development as a physical educator. He is such a positive, supportive, generous man! I owe him a lot, and it is a true joy to see him celebrated here! Congrats Joe! And thanks for all you’ve done and continue to do to advance quality HPE in California!
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