Shakir Ahmad and Alessa Somer aren’t holding back even as their high school athletic careers remain on hold.
Ahmad and Somer have been honored by the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table for their efforts both on and off the field. The organization celebrated the selections on its website, sbart.org, since its weekly press luncheons have been postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ahmad, a junior who has already been selected twice to the All-Channel League basketball team, was picked as San Marcos High’s winner of the Phil Womble Ethics in Sports Award. Somer, an All-Channel League First-Team girls tennis player for Dos Pueblos, was chosen as that school’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
Womble Award sponsor Dave Pintard noted that Ahmad “demonstrates the highest standards of ethics and sportsmanship.”
“With this award, the Round Table seeks to recognize and promote the elements of good character, leadership, positive attitude, conduct, and giving respect to teammates, opponents and officials,” Pintard said. “He puts team above personal interest.”
Coach Jelani Hicks said Ahmad has been a team leader ever since his freshman year when he earned second-team all-league honors for the Channel League champion Royals.
“He’s a very good communicator,” he pointed out. “Whenever there are questions he wants answered, or maybe some teammates need to communicate, he’s able to pull the guys together for meetings and make sure things are moving in the right direction.”
Ahmad also received All-Channel League honorable mention last year after returning from hip surgery to help San Marcos place second in conference.
“What I was most impressed about with that injury was that he came back as soon as he could, he was always on top of his workouts along with doing all the activities in the community and school,” Hicks said. “That was just super-impressive.”
Ahmad, the son of Shakir and Megan Ahmad, has compiled a grade-point average of 4.5. He’s served as an Associated Student Body representative while also helping to start San Marcos’ Black Student Union. Those efforts have included speaking about racial awareness at local elementary schools.
In June, he and schoolmate Talia Hamilton helped organize a peaceful demonstration against racial injustice that drew more than 3,500 in front of Stearns Wharf. They also helped persuade the Santa Barbara Unified School District to approve ethnic studies classes, as well as declare racism to be a public health emergency.
“He’s established himself as a true leader not only on campus but within our team,” Hicks said, “and also now in the community with all the BSU activities, and organizing the protests for Black Lives Matter, and helping the school board get things in order for the students.
“That’s something that I’ve been proud of just in being able to coach him.”
San Marcos athletic director Abe Jahadhmy said Ahmad beat out some stiff competition for the award.
“He is an outstanding basketball player who has handled adversity by overcoming a major injury to come back and perform at an elite level,” he said. “He excels academically, is a leader, honest, caring for everyone around him.
“Shakir is one of the finest persons I have worked with in over 30 years at San Marcos High School.”
Somer won DP’s Scholar-Athlete Award while compiling a GPA of 4.94. She’s taken advanced placement classes in biology, environmental science, English literature, Spanish and psychology. She’s received academic honors with the school’s Engineering Academy.
She also has played No. 1 singles for the Chargers since her sophomore year.
“She’s a dedicated and hard-working athlete but also a wonderful leader and role model for all her peers,” coach Laura Housinger said. “She steps up to any challenge that she can encounter, especially that No. 1 singles spot, which is often very difficult with high-level competition.
“She always works hard and has great energy on and off the court.”
Her extracurricular efforts have included the founding of an organization called “ProgramHers” in 2017 with then-senior teammate Anjali Thakrar.
“What’s really most impressive to me about Alessa is, aside from the athleticism and what she’s done in the classroom, are her non-profit efforts in our community,” said Marc Gamberdella, whose financial investment company Gamberdella-Spruill Group has sponsored the award for the last eight years. “Their mission is to encourage girls to become interested in science, technology, engineering and math.”
ProgramHers has been offering free engineering coding classes at local elementary schools, with the goal of empowering underrepresented minorities. It conducted a four-week coding program for middle-school students this summer which was centered on web development.
Somer also runs the Women in Technology Club at DP and serves as a leader within the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy.
“I look forward to seeing what her senior season is going to be like,” Housinger said, “as well as all the wonderful opportunities she will have once she graduates from high school.”