The daughter of Poncho Renteria, star quarterback of Santa Barbara High’s CIF championship football team of 1989, was struggling to shake the boredom and gloom.
There will be no more high school for 17-year-old senior Pilar Renteria. No more chances for her own athletic glory as shortstop of the Dons’ softball team. The coronavirus pandemic had ended all that.
“It’s pretty sad, not getting to have a Senior Day game,” she said. “I left my heart and soul on that field. I’ve been playing since I was a freshman and I left everything out there, and so this has been pretty heartbreaking.
“All we’re doing now is hanging out at home, watching movies … sometimes going out for a drive …”
And then one of those drives took a providential turn onto the 1900 block of Laguna Street on Tuesday. Pilar’s mother, Leticia, braked the car when she spotted a small crowd gather around a man who had collapsed onto the sidewalk across from Roosevelt Elementary School.
“It’s strange because we never take that route home … but that day, we did,” Pilar said. “At first I didn’t think anything of it, but my mom pulled over and asked what was happening.”
John Rickard, a former football star in his own right from Santa Barbara High’s Class of 1966, was in cardiac arrest.
“People started asking if anyone knew CPR,” Pilar said.
The adrenalin immediately kicked in. It was as if somebody had just hit a ball Pilar’s way.
“I was kind of hesitant at first,” she said, “but I stepped up because no one else was saying they knew it.”
Pilar had learned CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) in her sports medicine class at school. She was amazed to see that one of her friends from that same class, Andy Morgan, was already responding to the situation, stabilizing Rickard’s head and neck to clear his airway.
“We learned how to deal with these kind of situations in class but this was definitely a first for me,” Pilar said. “I was kind of in shock at first, but then instinct took over.”
She knelt down and began giving Rickard chest compressions.
“I kept saying, ‘C’mon John, I need you to breathe for me! … I need you to breathe!’” Pilar recalled. “I wanted to make sure he could hear me.
“After a few seconds, he took a deep breath … He started taking a deep breath every few seconds.”
She isn’t sure how long she kept up the compressions until the paramedics arrived.
“Four or five minutes maybe,” she said. “Maybe shorter. Maybe longer. I don’t know … I was just in the moment.”
Her father wasn’t surprised to hear of his daughter’s deed.
“She’s a pretty amazing person,” Poncho said. “Both she and her younger brother, Abel, are darned good kids. Pilar is really good in school, and her mom and I haven’t had to do much — she’s done it herself. She’s just one of those girls.”
Pilar plans to attend Cal State Northridge next year and study kinesiology. The door at Santa Barbara High may he closing, but another is opening.
“I want to do something that’s kind of in his area, whether it’s as an athletic trainer, or physical therapist, or EMT … or possibly even as a physician’s assistant, if I work hard enough,” she said.
Poncho was surprised, however, when he learned the name of Pilar’s first “patient.” It is an important one in Santa Barbara.
Rickard’s father, John T. Rickard, had been the city’s mayor and a Superior Court judge. The city’s new airport terminal was named in his honor less than seven years ago. The family’s lineage, in fact, dates back to Santa Barbara’s presidio days — and extends even to Poncho’s time at Santa Barbara High.
“I know John’s daughters,” he said. “I went to school with both Susan and Sarah.”
It is a small world. And as Pilar and Andy Morgan proved, it’s a world that comes together in the worst of times.
John Rickard is at Cottage Hospital and recovering, thanks to two teenagers and the others who rallied to his aid.
“Susan reached out to me the other day,” Poncho said, “She told me, ‘Hey, I understand it was your daughter who saved my dad’s life … Pilar was his guardian angel!’
“Sarah reached out to me, too, and said the same thing … that I should be very proud of her, for how calm and disciplined she stayed through the whole thing.”
The boredom and gloom, Pilar admits, have now subsided. At least for the time being.
“I was just glad I could help,” she said. “But really, what I’m most happy about is that God took him into his arms and decided that it wasn’t his time.”
On Friday, Pilar learned that she and John share the same day of birth: August 21. On Tuesday, they shared his rebirth.