<b>HUDDLE UP:</b> The Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table luncheons came into being in 1968; two years later, it held its first Monday press luncheon at Harry’s Plaza Café. The 45th year of the weekly gatherings kicked off two weeks ago as coaches, athletes, and members of the press met at Harry’s to support area schools in their sporting pursuits.
Paul Wellman

It was all about football when I went to work as a News-Press sports reporter in the fall of 1968. Every team in town received in-depth coverage. Once the season was underway, there was a Tuesday story recapping the previous game and looking forward to the next one, a Wednesday story analyzing the cumulative statistics, a Thursday feature story, a game advance on Friday with starting lineups, and a comprehensive game story on Saturday with a scoring summary and statistics.

The paper went to press midday on Saturdays, so we had plenty of time to write our game stories. We’d usually finish up around 2 a.m. and then head to the Jolly Tiger or, later, Carrows — the only 24-hour joints in the vicinity — and wind down from the night’s work with high-calorie meals that would keep us chatting into the wee hours.

There was plenty of excitement on the prep football scene. Santa Barbara High still had one of the strongest teams in Southern California. Sam Cunningham was a senior fullback and linebacker for the Dons in 1968. Two years later, “Sam Bam” and the USC Trojans would run all over “Bear” Bryant’s Crimson Tide in Birmingham, Alabama, and open the gates for the integration of major college teams throughout the South.

San Marcos, Dos Pueblos, Carpinteria, and Bishop Diego all had championship-contending teams in those years. The UCSB Gauchos had enjoyed some glory in the mid ’60s under “Cactus” Jack Curtice, but they were beginning to struggle against big-time competition at the start of a new decade. Bob Dinaberg took SBCC football to the first of eight league titles in 1969.

In September 1970, Monday-morning quarterbacking became a regional institution. The Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table, established two years earlier to support area schools in their athletic pursuits, held its first Monday press luncheon at Harry’s Plaza Café. ABC’s Monday Night Football also made its debut at that time.

Throughout the fall, it was a football luncheon. Each coach had ample time to tell stories. UCSB’s Andy Everest would bring game film and a projector. He proudly showed the Gauchos’ opening drive of the 1971 season at Washington. They moved the ball crisply down the field and scored a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead, players raising their arms in exultation as they ran off the field. That was the end of the highlight reel. Washington had one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Sonny Sixkiller. He rallied the Huskies to a 65-7 victory. The Gauchos lost the next week at Tennessee, 48-7 — not a good way to build enthusiasm for the team. They did manage to win three games that year and gave San Diego State all it could handle, but attendance at home games was not sufficient for a major program. Citing financial deficits, the administration extinguished UCSB’s big-time football dreams.

The Round Table has kept its press luncheons going throughout each school year. The 45th year of the weekly gatherings kicked off two weeks ago. The setting in the Ranchero Room of Harry’s had hardly changed. Look around the room, and you’ll see the familiar faces of retired coaches Dinaberg, Dick Mires, and Mike Warren. There’s an empty spot where Round Table cofounder Jerry Harwin used to sit. He departed two years ago, but he did make it to 100 years old.

The main difference from the early years is the diversity of sports. Football coaches still appear weekly, but there are also opportunities for soccer, volleyball, water polo, cross-country, golf, and tennis coaches to speak on various Mondays in the fall. Women’s and girls’ sports, which were not officially recognized until the mid ’70s, now get equal billing. Athletes of all shapes and sizes — all radiating health and fitness — accompany their coaches to the luncheons.

While football coaches were able to expostulate in the old days, now the speakers must be brief and to the point. Westmont College women’s soccer coach Kristi Kiely reviewed an eventful year in a minute — the Warriors made it to the 2013 NAIA championship match after her last luncheon appearance, she gave birth to a baby, and a new season is underway.

Most of the prep football teams had taken their lumps in previous weekend, but all the coaches were upbeat. Santa Barbara’s J.T. Stone used the word “excited” about 20 times.

Members of the press, yearning to hear a quote worthy of leading off a story, faithfully attend the luncheons. They appreciate the coaches who make attempts at humor or tell interesting anecdotes. But after the Big West Conference reprimanded UCSB women’s soccer coach Paul Stumpf last week for his published comments in the wake of a controversial overtime defeat, you probably won’t hear a coach ripping game officials. It must have been pretty bad, that soccer match, because Stumpf is not one to fly off the handle.

Thanks to The Santa Barbara Independent’s new partnership with PresidioSports.com, you can read all about the weekly luncheons — and find results of sporting events throughout the community — through independent.com. The male and female athletes of the week, voted on by several media members and compiled by Presidio Sports, are featured in print, as well. It’s a new era in a lot of ways, but Santa Barbara’s sports world still goes around.


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