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Randy Weiss: Media Luncheons Showcase Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table

In SBART’s 50th anniversary season, an inside look at an enduring and endearing local sports tradition


The Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table is baaack!!

After summer vacay, Monday Media Luncheons have arrived!!

And like always, it’s a special reunion ...

There are Dons. And Royals. Cardinals. Chargers. Warriors. Basically everybody.

Happens in the Ranchero Room at Harry’s Plaza Café nearly every Monday during the school year.

A high-octane noontime gathering with wonderful camaraderie ... good-natured banter ... a tasty buffet table that just doesn’t quit ... and knuckle bumps all around!

It’s the brainchild of much-beloved Santa Barbara basketball icon Bill Bertka, also going strong at age 90 as special assistant and consultant for the Los Angeles Lakers, and celebrating his 44th year with the team and his NBA golden anniversary.

We caught up him before he was heading down for the Lakers’ Media Day — also Monday.

Bertka offered a healthy serving of local history.

“Back then, we only had two papers here in town,” he shared. “And it was a tremendous workload for the sports writers to cover all the schools. The thought was — at the end of the week or the beginning — is to bring everyone together.”

The nonprofit Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table had been established a couple of years earlier by two local business leaders and equally beloved icons, (the late) Jerry Harwin and (the late) Caesar Uyesaka. Bertka, then the city’s recreation director, was SBART’s inaugural president.

The stage was set for Monday Media Luncheons, although there were some early doubters.

“I just found the first luncheon program the other day and recall there were those who thought it would never work,” Bertka smiled.

“But, giving recognition to local athletes can be very motivating.”

John Zant, the recognized dean of Santa Barbara sports reporters and now the sports columnist at the Santa Barbara Independent, continues as a very active supporter, as he has since Day One.

That date?

Sept. 21, 1970.

“Another historic sports event made its debut on that date — ABC’s Monday Night Football,” Zant recalled. “The Cleveland Browns defeated the New York Jets, 31-21. That show lasted 36 years on ABC and then migrated to ESPN.”

Meanwhile ...

“Monday luncheons are one of Santa Barbara’s unique and remarkably enduring institutions,” he added.

Yes, today, 47 years later and over a delicious lunch that’s gratis to coaches and athletes (a handful of sponsors mostly cover the meager $10 per person cost), SBART’s weekly showcase spotlights high school and college athletes in season. The day includes rapid-fire update reports from coaches, athletes of the week awards and special accolades for ethics (Phil Womble Ethics in Sports Award). Scholar athletes of the year by school and Special Olympics honors are recent additions.

Coaches typically bring a couple of student-athletes who are recognized individually. Others in regular attendance are a wonderful VIP sampling of the local sports world, including athletic directors, both current and retired, like Gary Cunningham (retired from UC Santa Barbara), Bob Dinaberg (retired from Santa Barbara City College) and Rocco Constantino, SBCC’s newly appointed AD; beaming families; award-winning sports reporters; and the most humble board leadership on the planet — all totally focused on celebrating local kids and sports at its best.

A winning combination, indeed.

“Monday Press Luncheons create an environment that celebrates achievements and participation in high school and college sports,” offered Gene Deering, current SBART board president, senior vice president of Radius Commercial Real Estate & Investments and former UCSB Gaucho soccer star.

“You can see can the pride on each athlete’s face when they are recognized.”

And about these young players ...

They’re smart (some with GPAs nearly stretching to the 5.0 stratosphere) ... they’re excelling in courses such as Linear Algebra and Multivariable Calculus (like Ian MacFarlane, Cate School’s Scholar Athlete of the Year honoree) ... and they’re leading school activities and launching nonprofit organizations in Third World countries.

Not to mention, these are incredible athletes from local venues to the world stage. They’re talented and acclaimed, perhaps none more than the incredible Special Olympians — such as Michael Madrigal, September’s Special Olympian of the Month).

Equally important, they’re just great — kind, considerate and concerned human beings with everyday displays of ethics, high moral character and sportsmanship (a la Fiona Kuesis of San Marcos High School and September’s Phil Womble Ethics in Sports Award honoree).

And the media cover it all, doing an amazing job of quickly delivering this news and inspirational stories on their websites, in their publications and on the airways for the masses to enjoy.

What’s easy to see from attending these luncheons over the years is that they build and reinforce strong, healthy, vibrant and positive relationships that unite us through sport, with a true and very special community-wide spirit.

And when asked about the Monday Media Luncheons’ long-standing success, the amazing Bertka is quick to praise the stream of great SBART board presidents and other selfless volunteers who tirelessly make it all happen.

Like the timeless saying, “It takes a village ...”

And what a special sports village Santa Barbara truly is.

Click here for more information about the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table. Click here to join SBART.

— WeissCrax columnist Randy Weiss is a longtime Noozhawk contributing writer. In the interest of full journalistic disclosure, he also works for a local financial institution that is a longtime sponsor of the SBART Monday Media Luncheons. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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