William (Bill) Russell, a longtime top administrator of California high school athletics and former El Presidente of Fiesta, died in his Santa Barbara home on Sunday, August 9. He was 94.

Russell was a graduate of Santa Barbara High (1932) and Santa Barbara State College (1940), where he was captain of the basketball team. The college, which later became UCSB, hired him as graduate manager of athletics and student activities. He held that position throughout the 1940s except for three years during the war when he worked for the American Red Cross in Alaska.

In 1950, Russell began three decades of leadership in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), which governs high school athletics throughout the state. He first served as commissioner of the Southern Section, and in 1956 he was appointed the State Commissioner of Athletics and executive secretary of the non-profit CIF Protection Fund, which provided affordable insurance for athletic participation. He retired in 1980.

William (Bill) Russell
Courtesy Photo

During the years Russell ran the state business out of an office on South Patterson Avenue, high schools broadened their sports programs from football, basketball, baseball and track. Before Title IX was passed, Russell laid the groundwork for the CIF to add girls’ sports. He said that one of his proudest moments was directing the first championship track and field meet for girls.

Russell was elected El Presidente of the Old Spanish Days Fiesta in 1969. He and his wife Dorathy hosted the Noches de Ronda show at the county courthouse for 20 years.

In 1998, the UCSB Alumni Association honored Russell with its Distinguished Alumni Award for his far-reaching work in athletics, for service to UCSB, his city and his state.

Preceded in death by his wife, Russell is survived by his daughter and granddaughter, Diana and Thea Vandervoort. A memorial service will be held Thursday, August 20, at 1 p.m. at Welch-Ryce-Haider Mortuary, 15 E. Sola Street in Santa Barbara.


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