Santa Barbara’s sports world mourned the passing of several of its top leaders — and cheerleaders — during 2020.
FEB. 18 — Mike Moropoulos went out a winner as Santa Barbara High’s football coach, guiding his final Dons’ team of 1980 to a 13-1 record and the CIF-Southern Section finals. But his induction into the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table Hall of Fame just two years later went way beyond his victories on the football field.
Moropoulos, who passed away at age 90, was beloved for his mentorship of young athletes as both a coach and administrator. He became only the second athletic director in Santa Barbara High’s long history when he succeeded Clarence Schutte in 1965.
“I’ve had a chance to see him work under pressure,” said the late Scott O’Leary, a coach and A.D. at rival Dos Pueblos, “and I’ve seen him make some very wise decisions about what was best for students.”
His son Craig played quarterback for him at Santa Barbara High and followed his footsteps into coaching both the Dons and at SBCC.
“I am saddened beyond words,” Craig said upon his father’s passing, “but I feel so blessed to have been led by my dad, my mentor, my coach and my best friend.”
MARCH 26 — Mekia Valentine, the last UCSB women’s basketball player to be drafted by the WNBA, lost her battle with depression when she took her own life at age 32.
She became a popular figure at the Thunderdome after having transferred from Wake Forest as a junior. The 6-foot-4 center set single-season school records in 2011 for both rebounds and blocked shots.
“Whatever points or rebounds she accumulates, that will never tell the story of Mekia Valentine, her competitiveness, and what she brings to the table,” then-coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “Above all else, she is an absolutely outstanding young woman.”
The New York Liberty selected her in the third round of the 2011 WNBA Draft. She went overseas, instead, and played four years of professional basketball in Israel, Poland, Romania and Germany. She returned to Santa Barbara to study nursing and work for a local computer software company.
APRIL 6 — Mike Tresemer, the Ironman of the UCSB baseball pitching staff of the mid-1980s, led the Gauchos to the PCAA championship and a No. 5 national ranking in 1986.
“His nickname was Tree, for obvious reasons,” then-coach Al Ferrer said. “He was the redwood — the core and foundation — of those dominant teams.”
Tresemer went 18-6 during three seasons at UCSB, posting a career earned run average of 3.25, before pitching for four seasons in the Kansas City Royals farm system. He passed away at age 57.
APRIL 30 — John Kasser, who brought both financial viability and gender equity to Gaucho sports, served as athletic director at UCSB when it was the Cinderella story of college basketball, in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The Gauchos got their lone NCAA Tournament win during his tenure, in 1990, and he even worked behind the scenes to bring the NIT to the Thunderdome in both 1992 and 1993.
“He was our A.D. during the first and only time that our men’s basketball and baseball teams went to the NCAA Tournament during the same year (1990),” assistant A.D. Bill Mahoney pointed out.
Kasser also led the construction of Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. It opened for its first Gaucho baseball game barely a month after he left Santa Barbara to take the A.D. job at the University of California. He passed away at age 82.
JULY 15 — Mike Cano was both a renowned sports official and beloved coach and administrator at his alma mater of Bishop Diego High School.
He had completed a one-year tenure as the Cardinals’ interim athletic director before succumbing to cancer at 62. He also coached several sports at the school and served as the moderator for the school’s Associated Student Body.
“The void that Mike’s absence is sure to leave here at Bishop is palpable,” head of school Karen Regan said. “His impact on our students as a coach, teacher, and administrator was so positive and it feels unfair that given the current circumstances, we cannot come together as a community to properly celebrate his life right now.”
Cano, who graduated from Bishop Diego in 1976, also spent 37 years as a football referee and as an umpire for both baseball and softball. He eventually became president of the Channel Coast Officials Association.
AUG. 15 —Rick “Buddy” Wolin, a special-needs graduate of Devereux School, was the face of the Dos Pueblos Little League for four decades. He helped coach and support countless league teams over the years. He was the emotional catalyst for the DPLL All-Star team which won the 2006 State Championship for 9- and 10-year-olds.
Wolin, who passed away from cancer at age 70, would cap Opening Day ceremonies for each DPLL season with his signature “Charge” cheer.
“I have a lot of great buddies here,” Wolin said after one of the ceremonies. “They come to learn and they come to have fun. I do this because I love kids so much. I’m going to keep doing it for as long as I can. Baseball keeps me young.”
DPLL official Donna Demeter said he even threw out the first pitch at the 2020 Opening Day.
“He had to get out of his wheelchair to do it,” she pointed out. “It was pretty emotional.”
DEC. 27 — Westmont College basketball had its own emotional booster in Pat Moore, the mother of former Warriors’ basketball star and head coach John Moore.
“Mom’s fanaticism was legendary and her appreciation for the teamwork in the game of basketball was unparalleled,” Moore said after his mother passed away at age 92.
Her boisterous devotion earned her an invitation into Westmont’s student cheering section nearly 20 years ago, and she remained a fixture there for many seasons.
“She loved being in Murchison Gym,” John Moore said. “It became a second home to her.”