Dos Pueblos cross country runners Addi Zerrenner and Bryan Fernandez.

Paul Wellman

Dos Pueblos cross country runners Addi Zerrenner and Bryan Fernandez.

Enduring Tradition

Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table Luncheon Celebrates 41 Years

Ben Hallock stood a few feet from the bison’s head and recalled his milestone appearances in the Ranchero Room of Harry’s Plaza Café. That’s where the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table (SBART) stages its noontime press luncheons every Monday when schools are in session.

“I came to my first luncheon in 1971,” Hallock said. He was a 16-year-old Santa Barbara High football player, and it is not surprising he remembers the occasion. It was a big deal for a kid to be sprung from school and introduced to the media because of his athletic feats or his character or both.

“My next luncheon was in 1979,” he said. He was a young football coach at Bishop Diego High, and it was his duty to report on the team’s progress and present a couple players every week during the season. Thirty-two years later, Hallock is doing the same thing, now as coach of the Carpinteria Warriors. There is another difference, Hallock said ruefully: He used to have hair.

The Monday luncheons are one of Santa Barbara’s unique and remarkably enduring institutions. I covered the first one on September 21, 1970. Another historic sports event made its debut on that date — ABC’s Monday Night Football. The Cleveland Browns defeated the New York Jets, 31-21. That show lasted 36 years on ABC and then migrated to ESPN. The SBART’s streak of Monday luncheons is 41 years and counting. The 2011-12 rendition was launched this week.

The Round Table is a community-wide booster club founded by Jerry Harwin, who is approaching his 100th birthday, and the late Caesar Uyesaka. It is entirely a volunteer organization run by sports-minded citizens. Boardmember Bill Bertka came up with the idea for the luncheons. Before he became a full-time coach in the NBA, Bertka was the city’s recreation director. The luncheons are sponsored by Santa Barbara Bank & Trust and also supported by SBART members, who subsidize the meals of the coaches and athletes. The public is invited to attend at $10 a pop.

Harry’s was the original home of the luncheons. Other sites were tried for a few years — the erstwhile Rocky Galenti’s restaurant, the Earl Warren Showgrounds, and El Paseo — but the Ranchero Room, its walls festooned with historic Santa Barbara photos and the gazing heads of a steer and a bison, has won out as the traditional meeting place.

Guest speakers like the Lakers announcer Chick Hearn occasionally visited past luncheons, but the meat and potatoes of the gathering are the reports by the city’s coaches. Football and basketball are regularly featured in season, but every sport gets at least a couple shots at the podium. Harwin used to seat himself next to the speakers and would give them a sharp jab if they threatened to turn the program into a board meeting. But there never has been much in the way of controversy. The speakers are consistently benign and civil.

Rich Hanna, a city recreation supervisor of aquatics and sports, has begun his two-year term as the SBART president and emcee of the luncheons. Comments at the year’s first forum included the following:

“We took it upon ourselves to be the karma police for the weekend.” —John Abdou, associate head coach of the UCSB men’s water polo team, on the Gauchos’ 32-6 victory over Chapman at the Inland Empire Tournament. They had seen Chapman demolish a hapless Caltech team 30-6 earlier in the tournament.

“[When a team is young], two things happen — you make mistakes, and the coach complains about it.” —Craig Moropoulos, SBCC football coach, whose Vaqueros consist of 68 freshmen and 15 sophomores. He vowed to stop complaining.

“We beat both of them.” —Greg Curry, UCSB assistant men’s soccer coach, tersely summing up the Gauchos’ road victories over Duke and North Carolina State.

“Greg was being modest.” —Dave Wolf, Westmont soccer coach. Wolf’s team was thumped 6-1 by the Gauchos in an exhibition match. He called UCSB’s 2-0 win over West Virginia last Friday “the second-best performance I’ve ever seen in Division 1 college soccer.”

“We don’t have a press box. We don’t have a track. Now, we don’t have a scoreboard.” —Jaime Melgoza, football coach at Santa Barbara High, where the scoreboard was on the fritz during the Dons’ victory over Beverly Hills last Friday. Melgoza lamented the lack of funding at his venerable alma mater.

San Marcos High Athletic Director Abe Jahadhmy was able to announce that the ribbon-cutting for his school’s new artificial turf field and track — funded by generous donations — will be at 6 p.m. on September 21.

Another feature of the luncheons is the announcement of a male and female Athlete of the Week, voted on by a media panel. Receiving those awards Monday were Dos Pueblos cross-country runners Bryan Fernandez and Addi Zerrenner, both of whom had the fastest three-mile times among more than 300 competitors at the Cerritos Great Cow Run.

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