Family, friends, former students and a Hall of Fame great gathered Saturday to share joyous memories of Orin “O.K.” Fulton, the West Valley’s legendary coach, teacher, principal and leader.
After a memorial service at the Church at Litchfield Park, his family held a reception at Agua Fria High School.
The reception took place, fittingly, at the O.K. Fulton Gymnasium, named after the man who coached Agua Fria to three state basketball championships. More than just a great coach, he was described as a modest, selfless leader who was “everybody’s favorite teacher.”
Fulton died at 87, in Litchfield Park Jan 17. He spent 36 years at Agua Fria High School as a teacher, coach, athletic administrator, assistant principal and principal.
His extraordinary West Valley life included being elected to the Governing Board of the AFUHS district in 1996, and serving on the Goodyear and Litchfield Park city councils. He was named National Athletic Director of the Year, President of the Arizona School Administrators Association and Arizona School Administrators Principal of the Year and elected to the Arizona and National Coaches Hall of Fame.
And he nurtured Randall McDaniel, one of the West Valley’s greatest athletes. After starring in football and track at Agua Fria, McDaniel had a long career in professional football, then was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
At the reception, McDaniel recalled Fulton giving his induction speech.
Long before he was a pro athlete, McDaniel was an eighth-grader when he met Fulton.
“He said he wanted to get to know the young man and not the athlete and it’s how we started off,” McDaniel said. “He kept an interest in me.”
At the time, McDaniel said he thought he would join the military after high school to see the world, but Fulton opened his eyes to other opportunities.
Today, McDaniel said he tries to follow in Fulton’s footsteps and helps others the way the coach once helped him as a young student.
“I always try to make a difference in a person’s life, point out the positive things they’re doing and help them get better,” McDaniel said.
“This was Fulton to a T and I’m just trying to do a little bit of what he did along the way.”
The gymnasium was filled with tables and chairs. Some people came to the reception from down the road while others came from out of state.
Scott Stoddard, who graduated in 1976 and knew Fulton personally, said he had flown in the night before. He said hearing of Fulton’s passing “broke his heart.”
“What a caring guy,” Stoddard said about Fulton. “Students always came first. They were everything to him. He was a teacher you did not want to disappoint.”
Stoddard recalled how excited Fulton would get during basketball games. He said he had a special seat with a seatbelt on it so he wouldn’t jump out of his chair.
Stoddard said one of the biggest lessons he learned from Fulton was, “To be kind to everybody. I don’t think I ever met anybody who disliked him.
“He was always everybody’s favorite teacher and certainly mine.”
Autumn Daniels is now Agua Fria High School athletic director and assistant principal.
“I’m going to do my best to fill those shoes, but he has been described as an icon and a legend, and his legacy will definitely continue,” Daniels said.”
Daniels said Fulton announced football games for over 55 years, and what he accomplished at the school has been an inspiration to her.
“He truly means a ton to me and really encourages me to try to be the best I can be and hopefully have a legacy like him,” Daniels said.
To honor his memory and legacy, Daniels said there will be an O.K. Fulton scholarship available to students, which will kick off in May.
Almost like one of the many sports events Fulton coached, the gymnasium for his memorial reception was loud and vibrant. The noise came from dozens of warm conversations about Fulton and his time in the community.
To Daniels, he was the epitome of a mentor. She learned from him, “To love other people and to be kind and see the best in others,” Daniels said.
“He was someone who gave all of himself to others not expecting anything back - it’s very rare in society today.”