Before Fresno Pacific University expanded its reach through establishing the Samaritan Scholarship and becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution, there was Ben Norton.
Ben Norton was the Fresno Pacific College men’s soccer coach from 1975 to 1989. In the summer of 1977—June to be exact—Ben officiated a soccer game between two local men’s club teams. I played for one of those teams, Club Ararat, and earned the distinction of top goal scorer during the weekend tournament. At the end of the match, Ben invited me to meet with him to discuss becoming a student-athlete at FPC (I had graduated from Clovis High School one year earlier and was working full time for a local farmer).
The following day Ben and I met at The Outpost restaurant. Before he began to speak, I asked Ben to allow me a few words. Even though I was eager to hear how I might be able to attend college, I knew I had to reveal my status—I was not a legal resident. I shared my secret with Ben, and he proceeded to explain the process of seeking an international student visa. It was then that I became perhaps the first Samaritan student at FPC, beginning an unbelievable journey of faith into higher education and collegiate soccer. God had revealed a new path for me during that weekend soccer tournament, making Jeremiah 29:11 real in my life: ‘“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”’
The brilliance of Ben was not in his coaching ability, although he was quite disciplined in planning and managing team schedules and training. Ben’s brilliance came in his ability to recruit young men of diversity, particularly men of Hispanic descent from the Central Valley. I played four years as a Viking and graduated in 1981 with a liberal studies major. One year later, Ben invited me to be an assistant coach. He sent me to the homes of Hispanic student-athletes who lived in places like Parlier, Visalia, Ivanhoe, Woodlake and South San Francisco. Ben knew my ability to speak Spanish would be influential when meeting with parents.
Many Hispanic families dreamed of sending their children to college. But a private college? Ben made it happen. International students from Canada and South America also chose to play Viking soccer through the years. In doing so, Ben put together teams ahead of their time in their diverse makeup. His recruiting strategies, competitive spirit and will to win changed the course of soccer history at Fresno Pacific. His teams competed for seven straight regional championships, winning a handful of them. And after being national runner-up two years in a row, Ben established himself as one of the premier college coaches in the country.
Generations of athletes, and particularly Hispanic student-athletes at Fresno Pacific, can thank Ben Norton for being given an opportunity to experience a Christian education combined with athletics. Most of us were not being recruited by other institutions, so without Ben, it would have been much harder—if not impossible—to fulfill the college dream. Many of us went on to earn All-League, All-Region and All-America status. Many of us became educators, lawyers, doctors, social workers, businessmen and peace officers. I enjoy sharing stories about former FPC/FPU players and the positive impact they are making in their communities. They are changing lives.
My wife, Laura Beth, often reminds me about “the power of one,” and how we can each make a distinct impression in the life of someone else. Ben Norton did that for me. He brought me to FPC as a student-athlete in 1977, and then offered me an assistant position in 1982. In 1991, God’s plan continued to unfold as he opened the door for me to take over the soccer program—all because of Ben Norton, the Samaritan coach.