Brunettes Beat Blondes in Football Fundraiser

Sixth Annual Game Raised Nearly $500,000 for Alzheimer’s Association

Jessica Vieira (left) of the Blondes carries the ball under hot pursuit by Lauda Sweningson. After prevailing by a 24-7 score, the Brunettes signaled with three fingers their third straight victory in the annual game. | Credit: Aaron Sawtelle.

For the Blondes, it was a win-win situation. They raised money for a great cause, and they had fun playing flag football, even if one of them broke her arm.

For the Brunettes, it was win-win-win. They raised money, had fun, and raised the trophy. For the third consecutive year, they outscored the Blondes, 24-7.

It was the sixth annual Blondes vs. Brunettes game, a series that has generated close to half-a-million dollars for the California Central Coast Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

It was played on a glorious Saturday afternoon at the Garden Street Academy, a change of venue because the Bishop Diego High field was being reseeded.

That made it win-win-win-win for Brunettes co-captain Leanne Ledbetter, a four-year player for the team and a longtime teacher at Garden Street (formerly San Roque School).

Brunettes co-captains Leanne Ledbetter and Liz Zuniga raise the trophy.

Ledbetter had taken upon herself to line the academy’s soccer pitch, turning it into an 80-yard football field. Then she went out and spearheaded the Brunettes’ offense, alternating at quarterback and center with Feli Rueff.

Throughout the game, the Brunettes pounded the flanks with end sweeps and misdirection plays. Ledbetter pitched out to speedy Ashley “Tash” Antoon for a pair of touchdowns, and she passed for a pair of two-point conversions.

Sure-handed tackles by Melissa Pechter and other defenders kept the Blondes at bay, but late in the third quarter, a long run by Kiersten Albert made the score 16-7. The Brunettes clinched the victory when Rueff threaded a 14-yard pass to Christiana Padilla in the end zone.

“I’m so glad it’s over,” said Ledbetter, who would turn 57 in three days. “It’s hard keeping up with these youngsters.”

The Brunettes now lead the series, 4-2. “We’re like a sisterhood,” co-captain Liz Zuniga said. “We spend a lot of time together and fight hard in practice. It feels good to get the win.”

Natalie Ford, co-captain of the Blondes, said her side was feeling good too. “We had a lot of new players and I want to thank them,” she said. “We had two teams of strong women. We tackled Alzheimer’s together.”

Blondes vs Brunettes Team

BODY BENDER:  Six weeks after she placed fourth in the heptathlon at the NCAA track and field championships, Hope Bender said she feels she is in good shape entering the USATF championships at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa this weekend. At stake will be berths in the World Championships at Qatar and a place on the U.S. team for the Thorpe Cup multi-event competition in Germany.

Bender is competing for the Santa Barbara Track Club (SBTC) after her stellar career at UCSB. She set school records in the 200-meter dash and the 100 and 400 hurdles. Her heptathlon score of 5,955 points was just 31 short of the record set by the Barbara Nwaba, who won two national titles and went to the 2016 Olympics while training with the SBTC. Nwaba has been undergoing a long recovery from knee surgery.

Bender gave credit to Gaucho coach Gray Horn for her development. “His aggressive, no-holds-barred training style enabled me to break through some of the barriers that were holding me back,” she said. “He built my confidence, built my fitness, and set me free to attack the multi.” Horn, who served as an interim coach at UCSB, recently was hired as an assistant at Wake Forest.

SBTC coach Josh Priester welcomed Bender to the team that trains at Westmont College. “Hope has shown a lot of grit and heart as she has developed into a great heptathlete,” he said.

Also competing for Santa Barbara at the nationals will be Juanita Webster-Freeman in the women’s high jump. She has cleared six feet.

FANTASY PHOTO:  A recent photo making the rounds on Twitter shows Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo standing alongside (and above) UCSB men’s basketball coach Joe Pasternack after a workout at the Thunderdome. Antetokounmpo, the 2019 NBA Most Valuable Player, was in Santa Barbara to do some specialized training at the P3 facility.

A native of Athens known as the “Greek Freak,” the 6’11” Antetokounmpo bypassed college to play for the Bucks in 2013, rendering moot the fantasies of Gaucho fans: “Does he have any eligibility left?”

Pasternack has secured Matt Freeman, a 6’10” graduate transfer from Oklahoma, to play his final year of collegiate eligibility for the Gauchos in 2019-20. As a fourth-year junior, Freeman made 36.2 percent of this three-point shot attempts for the Sooners.

Freeman will be the fourth graduate transfer to play for UCSB since Pasternack became head coach in 2017. The others were Leland King III (Nevada) and Marcus Jackson (Rice) in 2017-18, and Ar’mond Davis (Alabama), the Gauchos’ leading scorer last season.

TOUR DE FRANCE:  Young riders Julian Alaphilippe of France and Egan Bernal of Colombia made names for themselves by conquering the 3,100-foot climb up Santa Barbara’s Gibraltar Road during the Amgen Tour of California — Alaphilippe in 2016 and Bernal in 2018. Those early stage wins propelled both to win the overall titles in America’s most prestigious cycling race.

As the biggest race of all, the 2019 Tour de France, enters its final stages this week, both Alaphilippe and Bernal are in contention for the top honor. The Frenchman held the lead for most of the first two weeks, but three tough stages in the Alps loom before Sunday’s finish in Paris. The 22-year-old Bernal, who laid waste to the field in his 2018 victory here, may benefit from the upcoming climbs.


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