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Sports: A Noozhawk Partnership with The Lab and American Riviera Bank
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Meet Noozhawk’s New Sports Coordinator

Local volleyball legend and English teacher Jon Lee has long been a man of spikes and letters.

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To most people, a game is just a game.

But to Jon Lee — an ex-pro volleyball player, current high school English teacher, former ESPN commentator, varsity volleyball coach and seasoned journalist — every game, no matter how small, contains a drama.

“There’s one on every volleyball court, basketball court, tennis court, you name it,” he said this week, while sitting atop a picnic table on East Beach, facing the volleyball nets and big blue ocean beyond.

Now, Lee is embarking on another life adventure that will have him striving to convey that drama on a day-to-day basis: Noozhawk sports coordinator.

Lee has always been a man of spikes and letters.

In the mid-‘70s, he played outside hitter in Spain, and then later for the now-defunct Santa Barbara Spikers, where he played against NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain many times. Later during the same decade, he worked as a globe-trotting journalist for Volleyball Magazine, which flew him to far-flung places such as Cuba, Russia, Japan, Italy and Montreal.

For the last couple decades, Lee has balanced his twin passions closer to home, working as an English teacher and volleyball coach. He currently serves as the chair of the English department at San Marcos High School, and the head coach of the boys’ volleyball team.

At Noozhawk, as the coordinator for the sports coverage, Lee will recruit reporters — some of them students — edit stories and write features.

“I think there are hundreds and hundreds of dramatic stories out there,” he said. “Maybe someone is trying to beat their buddy, discover a new sport, meet a girl. That’s always been my artistic challenge — to convey that drama.”

Lee also plans to ensure that scores are posted in a timely manner. Eventually, he said, he’d like the coverage to expand beyond the scope of the obvious games, like football, basketball, volleyball and soccer.

“Whether it’s a dart tournament or T-ball game, heck yeah — intermural tetherball — let’s get the results out there,” he said.

At age 58, Lee has experienced quite a few dramas and adventures of his own.

The middle of three brothers and the son of a basketball coach, Lee initially had hoop dreams, but unlike his younger brother, Greg — who became a basketball star at UCLA — Lee never found his footing in that sport.

When it came time to go to college, Lee broke ranks with his UCLA-loving family, and attended UCSB, where he majored in religious studies. There, the San Fernando Valley native also discovered volleyball.

“I found I wasn’t the slowest and smallest — I was a big guy in volleyball,” said Lee, who stands at 6 foot 3.

In 1969, Lee played on the UCSB volleyball team that won the national championship against UCLA — on which played another one of his brothers, Chris.

Although Lee has racked up plenty of adventures as an athlete, some of the most memorable happened to him as a sports writer.

Once, at a bus station in Mexico, he became so engaged in a conversation with a fellow traveler that he missed the bus. He caught the next one half an hour later. The conversation saved his life: that first bus wound up driving off a cliff.

“The bus I took got caught in a traffic jam because of it,” he said. “The driver was crying because he knew the driver of the other bus.”

Other adventures were less harrowing, but no less memorable, such as playing volleyball with villagers in the jungles of the Colombian Rain Forest.

As a coach, Lee has mentored two Olympic athletes — Brook Billings and Dax Holdren — as well as current legend Todd Rodgers, who is by most accounts the Kobe Bryant of volleyball.

Finally, there has been the adventure of parenting.

A father of two, Lee has a daughter, Solana, who inherited the volleyball gene. She picked up a full-ride scholarship in the sport at Temple University in Philadelphia.

“She was a summa cum laude, which I didn’t know what that meant, because I was never anywhere close to that,” he said.

He has a son, Jansen, who writes and plays music. (Perhaps he inherited that gene from Lee’s wife, Lynette.)

Through it all, Lee has spent some 40 years in Santa Barbara.

“Some things have changed dramatically,” he said. “But this,” he said, gesturing toward the volleyball nets and the ocean, “hasn’t changed a bit.”

Neither has his love of a hard spike, dramatic victory or a well-told story.

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