The Sport of Giving Thanks

Gratitude, Speedy Santa Barbarans, and College-Bound Athletes

Bishop Diego High’s Isaiah Veal (21) gathered in a long pass during the Cardinals’ 59-21 victory over San Marino in the CIF Division 6 playoffs last week. The Cardinals (11-1) will play in the semifinals for the seventh time in 12 years Friday, when they travel to Saugus.
Paul Wellman

It’s not just this week, but daily or monthly, I feel gratitude about many things.

The sun rising and setting over the Pacific, full moons, low tides when you can walk as far as you want along the shoreline.

The no. 5 bus, which stops at Hendry’s Beach and which I should take more often.

The Obern Trail, a bike path (with a short byway on residential streets) that skirts Atascadero Creek from Vieja Valley to Goleta Beach.

Game Sevens, and Games Fives and Sixes leading up to them.

Roger Angell, 97, who still posts eloquent baseball essays in the New Yorker.

Other nonagenarians who inspire us: Vin Scully (almost) throwing out the first pitch; Tommy Lasorda still bleeding blue; Santa Barbara’s own Bill Bertka, the Lakers’ scouting guru, who convinced the team to draft Utah’s Kyle Kuzma, a rookie revelation.

Upsets. Come on; Alabama and the Patriots can’t win all the time.

Scandal-free college athletics. Knock on hardwood, but UCSB and Westmont have been promoting true student athletes, otherwise known as four-and-done players.

SBCC’s La Playa Stadium, an unbeatable setting.

High school sports. They reveal the heart of the community, bringing generations together and belying the notion that this is primarily a tourist town.

CIF championship dreams. Bishop Diego and Dos Pueblos have never reached the top in football, but both have a shot this year, as does Laguna Blanca in 8-man football.

Title IX and the daughters who make themselves and us proud.

The Special Olympics.

Alums who give back to area schools and colleges, the benefactors whose names are on such community assets as Elings Park and Girsh Park, and others whose generosity makes this a better place.

FAST TIMES: Gray Avenue, a couple of blocks in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, was once a quiet residential street where Johnny Gilbert grew up. It was not so quiet when it became Johnny’s speedway. “We used to race on Gray Avenue,” recalled Clarence “Nippy” Banks at Gilbert’s recent memorial service. Banks didn’t have to reveal who won those boyhood races. Gilbert became the second-fastest sprinter in the country, beaten only by world-record holder Bob Hayes in the 100-yard dash at the 1963 U.S. track and field championships.

Before then, Gilbert ran track and played football at Santa Barbara High. He was Mr. Excitement on the gridiron, reeling off zigzag scampers that are remembered with absolute delight by all who witnessed them. He helped the Golden Tornado, as the Dons were known in the CIF playoffs, win the 1960 championship. Off the field, he was a charismatic young man, as attested by the turnout of former schoolmates at the celebration of his life in Santa Maria.

Gilbert bypassed the 1964 Olympics because he had to go to work to support a family. He had a barbershop on Anacapa Street that was a popular gathering place. Later he attended UCSB and worked as a computer operator at Vandenberg Air Force Base. He moved his family to Santa Maria, endearing himself to the community at Pacific Christian Church. “Our conversations shifted from what we used to do to what we could do,” said his pastor, Grant Gridiron. Gilbert’s gift of speed faded over time, but he found other ways to make friends and influence people in a positive way.

Another great sprinter who once lived among us was Frank Wykoff, the winner of gold medals in the 4×100 relay at three Olympic Games (1928, ’32, and ’36). He later served 14 years as a Carpinteria elementary school teacher and superintendent. The Wykoff trophy, awarded to the winner of the boys’ 100 at Carpinteria’s Russell Cup track meet, went to Johnny Gilbert in 1960 and ’61.

In 1930, Wykoff was the first man to run 100 yards in 9.4 seconds. Hayes set the world record at 9.1, and Gilbert was clocked in 9.2 (all those times on stopwatches, rounded up to the nearest 1/10th second). The standard for the fastest humans has shifted to 100 meters (109.36 yards), and Usain Bolt is king at 9.58 seconds. But in a short fantasy race on Gray Avenue, I’d bet on the quick-starting, 5′6″ Johnny Gilbert over the tall Jamaican.

COLLEGE BOUND: November 8 was national letter-of-intent-signing day for high school athletes offered college scholarships. There were gatherings of happy scribblers at three city schools.

Santa Barbara: Lilibeth Castillo (water polo, McKendree); Cassandra Gordon (basketball, Georgetown); Grace Raisin (water polo, UC Berkeley); Georgia Ransone (water polo, UC San Diego); Payton Wolf (soccer, Westmont)

San Marcos: Lili Rose Akin (water polo, Brown); Owen Bates (soccer, Westmont); Addie Furrer (soccer, Portland State); Sydney Hess (soccer, Westmont); Aliyah Huerta-Leipner (softball, Boston College); Allie Jones (track and field, Stanford); Maija Ninness (swimming, Brown); Sarah Owens (water polo, UCSB); Piper Smith (water polo, UC Irvine); Sophia Trumbull (water polo, UCSB)

Dos Pueblos: Talia Bloxham (softball, Amherst); Isaac Coffey (baseball, Oral Roberts); Ryann Neushul (water polo, Stanford); Thea Neushul (water polo, UC San Diego); Nova Sinskul (softball, Loyola Chicago)

Meanwhile, UCSB announced the basketball players who signed to become Gauchos in 2018-19. For the men: Amadou Sow, a 6′9″ forward, and Sékou Touré, a 6′4″ guard, from Prolific Prep Academy in Napa; and 6′8″ forward Jay Nagle of Will C. Wood High in Vacaville. For the women: Kiana Vierra, a 5′10″ guard from Kamehameha-Kapalama School in Honolulu; Lauren Lee, a 5′11″ guard from Trinity High in River Forest, IL; and Megan Ormiston, a 6′3″ forward from Murrieta Valley.


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