Sunday, Sept. 22 was a normal day for most of the local Santa Barbara natives around the county.
Some might have spent the day getting joy from spectating some NFL week 2 action while others might have attended local events such as the UCSB men’s soccer team win over the University of Baltimore in Maryland County, 4-0 at Harder Stadium.
But, for Westmont student-athletes, their Sunday afternoon was spent doing something different from their normal routine.
Instead of being out at practice or studying for a test, 230 athletes across most of Westmont’s sports programs partnered with the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade, Coast (Safe Routes to School), the Montecito Trails Foundation, and Cold Springs Landscape to repair a path along Cold Springs Road.
Only the women’s soccer team could not participate due to the fact they were traveling back from the state of Georgia after playing a match the day before.
It was the first time in Westmont history that all athletes were asked to participate in a community service project.
“It was important for us athletes to give back to the community because they support us. It helps us to let them know we appreciate them and reaching beyond our small liberal arts school because, as a Christian school, we should be like Christ in the way of serving others,” sophomore Sydney Brown of the Westmont women’s basketball team said.
The project, which took about three hours of work to be completed, was needed due to the fact that the road had become uneven and was was in bad shape.
Some of the work that needed to be done included removing leaves and rocks from the trail, layering dirt on the pathway to make the trail flatter, sprinkling the dirt with water, and compacting the dirt with machinery.
For a lot of the athletes, this was new territory. This wasn’t just passing out flyers, it involved manual labor. But still, many of them were up to the task.
“I was happy with the approach of our athletes. For the most part, they saw it as a privilege to get to do this and work with these people versus looking at how this is taking time away from your Sunday,” Athletic Director Dave Odell said.
Along with Brown, sophomores Cade Roth and Tyler Austin of the men’s basketball team were project captains.
For the most part, captains were expected to actually be more like safety enforcers, making sure no one got hurt, but that did not sit well with the athletes who are used to being apart of the action.
“The first hour I oversaw everything but after that, I knew I had to do something because I can’t just stand around for four to five hours without doing anything and me, being a captain, doing that kind of helped other people know they can’t just stand around and we all did it together,” Austin said.
It would make sense that most student-athletes would want to spend their Sundays relaxing given that their time is very limited as it is.
But still, all of the student-athletes were happy to be able to give back to the community that has embraced them during a very important stretch of their life.
“Westmont has given me so much. It has given me my faith and helped me grown and so I felt like I needed to give back to this community,” Austin said.
Another factor also was the fact that this project was not just for the entire community, but specifically to help the young children who go to Cold Springs Elementary.
“The fact that this ensured kids safety really hit home for me because I love kids and to hear if a kid got hurt near my area it would really hurt me so knowing we impacted that. We also planted agave plants because parents had been parking there but that path is meant for the kids so that will help them,” Austin said.
For Roth, the fact that he was also able to lend him to the elementary school just down the road meant a lot for him.
“If I had to go to Goleta and do a community service project I would feel great but never being able to see it would not feel as strongly about my work as I do now because I am constantly reminded of it,” Roth said.
Allison Gonzalez, a senior swimmer on the women’s swim team, also felt the same way.
“I live off-campus so driving to school I see it (the pathway) and the kids that use it and knowing that it really does help our community and the impact it makes here is awesome to see,” Gonzalez said.
Another huge benefit the student-athletes received from helping out the community was that for the first time, the different sports teams got to come together and be apart of a common goal.
This was especially true Gonzalez and the swim team, which is currently in the first year in its existence as a program.
“For the swim team, it was really important to get to know everyone because we are here now. It was nice for us to bond with other athletes,” Gonzalez said
“Being the new team, it helped us get to know everyone and we really bonded with golf since we are the new teams. It really helped us feel like we are student-athletes with everyone and gave us the confidence to be apart of the programs here.”
Odell was particularly happy to be able to see this project happen so quickly. He said that, surprisingly, it only took a few months of planning before being implemented.
It all started when Luis Escobar, a trail running legend, and Jeff Huff, a race director, partnered to look for a way to support Montecito after the mudslides which happened in early January of 2018.
Approximately 21 people died as a result of the mudslides with about 100 homes being completely wiped out and 300 being damaged.
Huff told Escobar to auction off a spot in his race in Hawaii with all the proceeds going to the Montecito Trails Foundation.
Being involved in the running community himself, Odell partnered with Ashley Mayfield, the President of the Montecito Trails Foundation, to see how they could use that Escobar and Huff’s generosity to help the community along with the help of the student-athletes.
Then, Odell and Mayfield found a way to help not just the community but the local elementary school, Cold Springs, who had at least one student die during the mudslides.
“It’s great for our athletes to be apart of something bigger than ourselves. Even if they are just here for four years, they are apart of this community forever. They were helping these kids in a huge way and that really spoke to them,” Odell said.
One of the biggest responders since the Montecito mudslides has been the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade.
“They were born out of the mudslides. They came together to help the community support the rebuild efforts around Montecito. They really were the ones that thought out this project and took advantage of using our athletes,” Odell said.
Abe Powell, a co-founder of the Bucket Brigade, lived in Montecito his whole life and actually attended Cold Springs elementary.
His story touched a lot of the athletes he helped train for this event.
“He told us he grew up with the same struggle, walking with no path and the cars being dangerously close to him so leading this was a big deal for him. The fact that he made it, I could see made an impact on him,” Austin said.
Odell stated that during the three hours fo work, only one athlete needed a band-aid for their injuries, everyone else was completely safe.
He was thankful for the Bucket Brigade for providing excellent safety procedures but also to the athletes themselves for being accountable for each other and keeping each other safe.
Odell also stated that this was not a one-time thing. He hopes that there can be even more opportunities, at least annually, that the athletes can all come together, schedule permitting, to help the community in this way.
Speaking of the community, they have shown nothing but appreciation for the student-athletes and their generous help.
Brown specifically remembers how during the day of many people were cheering them on.
“There were homeowners coming out and talking to us and saying how thankful they were. Cars would drive by and honk or cheer because they knew what we were doing so it was cool to do it as a whole team. That really stuck out to me,” Brown said.
When you choose a college, you ideally choose a place that makes you feel at home. And, it makes sense that helping out your neighbors would bring joy to your life.
“(This community) is beyond just the athletics. Back home, at high school (in Silverton, Oregon) there was a lot of drama and hatred but coming here to a private, Christian school as soon as I stepped herre I felt welcomed. Everyone brings such a positive attitude so it is easy to be happy and I am happy to help when they need me,” Roth said.