“The biggest challenge after success is shutting up about it.” — Criss Jami
And, unfortunately, humility hasn’t been taking centerstage nearly often enough over recent months here on the South Coast.
Growing up, there were two men that taught me everything about being gracious in victory, and hungry in defeat.
My grandfather — and Barry Sanders.
Sanders was seemingly a human pinball machine, scoring touchdowns in the most improbable of ways.
There were no dances. There was no posing for the cameras. He flipped the ball to the referee and returned to the sideline.
He didn’t need to tell you what he just did. He needed you to know he was already preparing to do it again.
“Act like you’ve been there before,” my grandfather used to say.
Competition itself can be incredibly emotional — for the player, for the coach and for the fans.
It can cause you to cry; it can cause you to lose your mind; it can make you immortal.
But it can also make you immature — something that I’ve personally witnessed a trio of times this season despite the best efforts of school administrators.
After both Big Games in boys basketball, I witnessed students from both Santa Barbara High and San Marcos High rush the floor, in of itself a natural reaction to incredible games.
But then you noticed both vulgar language and actions by the winning crowd, mocking their opponent mercifully. There were middle fingers, name-calling and verbal threats made at each other. Honestly, some of the threats, if taken seriously, were criminal in nature.
It overshadowed what was great basketball, it turned the Big Game into the Big Shame.
School administrators from both schools had to rush the court to keep students from altercations, outnumbered probably 30- to 40-to-1, really there for just the looks, as there was little they could do to stop the fracas.
Santa Barbara athletic director Joe Chenoweth confirmed that they had outside security attend both games, but the police couldn’t contain the immaturity of the students, and even some overzealous parents.
While there were rumors of nasty notes written on cars in the SBCC parking lot and verbal confrontations as fans exited, there was little recourse and therefore no lesson learned — by anyone.
If one had been learned, the unfortunate events of Wednesday night at Santa Barbara High might have been prevented.
Emotions were running high as the Dons hosted their CIF opener against Culver City, as Santa Barbara had dominated the game for the most part, creating frustration for the Centaurs.
Then with about 10 seconds remaining, a long pass to beat a full-court press was launched toward Dons senior Jackson Gonzales, only to see a Culver City player hit him from behind, which caused Gonzales to slam into the unpadded wall behind the basket.
Gonzales had the wind knocked out of him, and genuinely missed a catastrophic injury by mere inches. (Side note, Santa Barbara High officials have already met and will be putting in padding as a result.)
No foul was called, which was absolutely abhorrent. Both of the refs should be ashamed.
And then Corey Adam — which deserves a “hero” nod for the week — defended his player by calling out the refs, something that Culver City coach RJ Walker took exception to.
Then the war of words between the two benches erupted, with Chenoweth rushing to midcourt to hold the Centaurs’ coaching staff back.
The game would end, but there was a feeling that it wasn’t over — and it wasn’t.
Coaches from both sides, parents from both squads and the Santa Barbara student body couldn’t leave well enough alone, choosing to engage in more conflict.
Players from both teams were quickly ushered away — great work by school administrators — but it took a couple of parents, including Jackson’s father, Will, and myself (we believe in breaking up fights, not engaging in them like some other media members) to make sure that Culver City coaches and Santa Barbara parents did not come to blows.
As soon as that was dissolved, it became a top priority to clear the gym of the students, who continued to chide the Centaurs, clearly showing that a lesson still needed to be learned.
Chenoweth explained that extra security was not present because each game is judged on its crowd size, and with it just being the first round, nothing had been requested. There is no rule that law enforcement must be present at all games.
Maybe that should be looked into — but that sits with the Santa Barbara Unified School District to decide.
Considering that the District can drag its feet on issues and clearly treats athletics like a stepchild — look at the numerous facilities issues — here are a few suggestions to help the schools better prepare for the emotions that can cause chaos:
- No sideline access for anybody but players and coaches. No parents, no alumni, no one. The time it takes for a fan to get down from the stands gives an administrator or law enforcement official a chance to stop the conflict before it starts.
- No storming the court. Yes, this would be difficult to manage, but barring access to the playing field would limit negative interactions between opposing fan bases.
- Clear penalties for students. Whether it is foul language, obscene gestures or whatnot, students need to know that there are repercussions for everything. Make sure to video all games so therefore there is a system in which to monitor behavior, with administrators having built-in evidence that helps them enforce this rule.
- Banning for parents/fans. If you can’t trust the adults in the room, then there is a problem. There should be a warning system, with the “three strikes and you’re out” a perfect solution. The first time you are warned, the parent has to sign a contract not to do it again. The second time, immediate removal from that particular game. The third time, simply don’t come back.
Humility is something that is learned, and it’s time that this community joined in on the lesson plan.
Let’s all act like we’ve been there before — or make sure those that don’t buy in don’t have an opportunity to be there moving forward.
JUAN CARLOS TORRES
The Santa Barbara High senior could barely walk after the match, but legends rise when they are needed, and Juan Carlos Torres is worthy of legendary status.
While the entire staff was out and about this week covering what felt like a million home games, an unexpected message came in from both our sports photographer extraordinaire, Kenneth Song, and man on the scene, Jorge Mercado.
The Dons were down 2-1 in their opening round match, with likely less than two minutes to go.
Torres was hobbled by a hamstring issue and things weren’t looking good.
A text comes in moments later, “Wow.”
Torres used one of the best set of feet this town has seen in decades to tie the game from outside the box.
And then another text, “JC just won it for Santa Barbara.”
And after a 2-0 win in the second round on the road, Torres has the Dons in the quarterfinals at San Marcos on Tuesday at 5 p.m.
He only played 30 minutes in the second round, but his work in the waning moments of the opener have the Dons on quite the trajectory.
Special players step up in big moments.
Thankfully, the moment wasn’t too big for Torres.
ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER BLOWOUT
The SBCC men’s basketball team fell to 1-23 on the season. Maybe we should be celebrating an “improvement” — the Vaqueros “only” lost by 31 to Hancock this time around, a couple of weeks removed from a 58-point defeat.
The team’s final home game is on Wednesday, and final game for the season on Saturday.
Maybe a new era begins on Sunday.