In recent days, Santa Barbara has saluted sons and daughters who played in the World Series and competed in the Olympics, and watched another play in the Super Bowl. All these achievers will tell you they benefited from a custom of caring, support, and encouragement in this community.
“It’s true that it takes a village,” said baseball star Ryan Spilborghs, who went into the Santa Barbara High Athletic Hall of Fame last month.
When water polo player Sami Hill showed her Olympic gold medal to her sports-loving Santa Barbara family and friends, she said, “We did it. You guys did this with me.”
U.S. heptathlon champion Barbara Nwaba gets tears in her eyes when she tells how her coach, Josh Priester, started the Santa Barbara Track Club just so she’d have a place to train after graduating from UCSB.
Hill and Nwaba addressed an audience of 400 athletes Monday at the S.B. Athletic Round Table’s 31st annual Girls and Women in Sports Day Luncheon.
They both recalled memorable moments at the Rio Olympics. For Nwaba, it was setting a personal record in the shot put on her third attempt and “finally having fun” in the stressful competition. She finished 12th in the world. Hill, who was the backup to starting goalie Ashleigh Johnson, was called on to play in the final minutes of the gold-medal water polo match. “This is the moment I’ve been waiting for since I was 12 years old,” she said. “I got a huge stop. Yes!”
There was another celebration of Santa Barbara’s unique sports culture on Saturday at the Santa Barbara Foresters Hall of Fame Night. The players who brought home the club’s first National Baseball Congress World Series championship in 2006 were honored. The Foresters have since won five more titles.
The 2006 club had five players go on to the major leagues, including former Santa Barbara High and SBCC pitcher Dylan Axelrod, and Conor Gillaspie, whose clutch home run helped the San Francisco Giants win the National League Wild Card Game.
Even though most of the club’s players lived out of town — and some out of state — 13 of them showed up at the Hall of Fame event. “It’s amazing because we only spent two months together a decade ago,” said pitcher Bobby McEwen, who came from Seattle.
Manager Bill Pintard said, “They had team chemistry … an unselfish attitude.” The Foresters displayed the same traits last summer when they won their sixth title. Pintard assured the crowd that the community-supported team will find a place to play in 2017 after its arrangement to use UCSB’s stadium expired.
Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia was the guest speaker. While telling some stories from the big leagues, he ended his address by saying, “Get involved with your community, with local events, no matter what happens in the rest of the country.”
SUPER SAD: Alex Mack’s hometown fans went from revelry to despair when the New England Patriots wiped out a 28-3 Atlanta lead and won Sunday’s Super Bowl in overtime, 34-28. Mack, the center on Atlanta’s offensive line, was the first player from Santa Barbara to appear in the Super Bowl. The former San Marcos High student never missed a down despite playing in pain: The fibula in his lower left leg had been fractured in the NFC Championship game. Mack did miss one block, and it led to a sack of QB Matt Ryan late in the fourth quarter, when the Falcons were near the red zone with a 28-20 lead. A subsequent penalty put them out of field-goal range.
It’s questionable why the Falcons even tried to pass in that situation, when a three-pointer would have put them up by two scores and demanded an even more heroic comeback by Tom Brady and the Patriots. But even then, I wouldn’t have put it past them. They were relentless, and the Falcons were floundering.
Other thoughts as the confetti was streaming down in Houston:
• The NFL improved the overtime rules a few years ago by eliminating sudden death in the case of a field goal on the first possession, but it seems unfair that Atlanta had no chance to respond on offense after the Patriots drove all the way to a touchdown. The biggest play in OT was the coin flip that New England won.
• Julius and Julio: Patriots receiver Julian Edelman’s grasping of a ball that bobbled on the limbs of fallen Atlanta defenders will live long in Super Bowl lore because it set up the game-tying touchdown. But a few moments earlier, Julio Jones of the Falcons made a leaping, twisting, toe-dancing catch on the sideline that was artistically superior.
• Super Bowl LI concluded a trio of football games that had pundits proclaiming “the greatest ever.” Preceding it were two classics that went down to the final ticks of the clock: the Rose Bowl (USC 52, Penn State 49) and the College Bowl Championship (Clemson 35, Alabama 31). n
Game of the Week
2/11: High School Wrestling: Channel League Finals Wrestlers from five schools fight for individual honors on Santa Barbara High’s new mat. Dos Pueblos, which won its third straight dual-meet league championship and was runner-up in the CIF duals, has a strong lineup including Will Yamasaki (182 pounds), Kade Uyesaka (113), two-time champion Ryan Fidel (138), and Swiss exchange student Noam Dessibourg (170). 10am (varsity finals start after 1pm). J.R. Richards Gym, S.B. High School, 700 E. Anapamu St. Call 966-9101.
S.B. ATHLETIC ROUND TABLE ATHLETES OF THE WEEK
Brandon Garcia, SBHS soccer — The sophomore forward scored game-winning goals against Buena and San Marcos, the latter an unassisted shot with the Dons playing a man short because of a red card.
Anna Cable, Dos Pueblos water polo — Only a 9th grader, the goalie made eight saves against San Marcos as the Chargers finished third in the SoCal Championships. She made the all-tournament team.