Barlow Der Mugrdechian
Friend and colleague Ara Hairabedian, a champion athlete, coach and educator died on September 8 at age 77. Hairabedian joined the Fresno State faculty as a physical education professor in 1953 and coached football, gymnastics, swimming and diving, and
water polo. He resigned from his final coaching job, water polo, in 1977 and retired from the university in 1993, although he was frequently back teaching his beloved swimming courses.
Hairabedian was a great friend and supporter of Armenian Studies at Fresno State, always providing sound advice when asked, attending lectures and community events, and serving on search committees.For the past several years, Hairabedian faithfully attended my Armenian language class, always striving to improve his Armenian. He diligently completed homework assignments and occasionally entertained students with his magic act.
Hairabedian was an amateur Athletics Union gymnastics champion in 1950 and 1951, competing in floor exercise for USC. He taught physical education and coached gymnastics and football at Penn State, then joined the Fresno State coaching staff as a football assistant in 1953. He started the Fresno State swimming program in 1954 and the water polo program four years later. In 1978 the NCAA awarded Hairabedian its Master Coach Award for swimming.
Hairabedian earned three degrees in physical education- a bachelor’s from USC, a master’s from Penn State and a doctorate from Stanford- and was a member of numerous educational and athletic organizations.
An Olympic historian, Hairabedian attended many Olympics, including this summer’s Athens Games.
Hairabedian played football and gymnastics at Roosevelt High in Los Angeles and football and wrestling at Los Angeles City College, then competed on U.S. Army teams in gymnastics, boxing, track and field and badminton. He was an All- American and team captain in gymnastics at USC.
Ara was born on August 18, 1927, in Los Angeles, CA to Kunaz and Zepure Hairabedian. He was the youngest of three sons. He was an athlete, professor, teacher, dancer, organizer, motivator, magician, comedian, father, grandfather, and friend, but to most he was always known as simply “Coach.”
He was educated in Los Angeles where he excelled in athletics. Following in his brother’s footsteps, he served his country in the U.S. Army. Upon his return, he continued his education and athletic career at the University of Souther California. At that time, 1950 to 1951, he won two national gymnastics championships for the floor
In addition to teaching numerous courses in Physical Education, he was the Head Swimming and Diving Coach from 1953 to 1978, as well as the assistant football coach from 1953 to 1954. He later established the water polo program at Fresno State College, and made the initial proposal to the Fresno Unified School District to start high school water polo.
Ara was proud of his 1991 selection to the International Olympic Academy in Olympia, Greece, serving as one of five U.S. delegates. Ara has received numerous awards for achievement in teaching, coaching, and commuity service. He retired from California
State University, Fresno and received the Professor Emeritus distinction.For more than 50 plus years, Ara enjoyed teaching children of all ages how to swim.
The Armenian Studies Program will miss Coach Hairabedian and all that he has meant to the university. “Coach” will be missed by all who had the privilege to know him.