Memories came flooding back into the old gym at Santa Ynez High on Tuesday night as several of the school’s former girls basketball standouts put back on a Pirates jersey and looked to show they still had some game.

The former players, who ranged in age from 18 to 36, were back on campus to take on the school’s current varsity squad in the 31st annual alumni game. The event was started by legendary Pirates coach Jo Ann Reck, who coached the group of alums on Tuesday, as a way to keep in touch with former players and also give them a chance to re-connect with each other.

“I don’t do Facebook and I’m not big on stuff like that, but I’m starting to get better about staying in touch with some of them,” said Reck, who started the Santa Ynez program in 1977 and won 557 games, including three CIF Finals, before retiring in 2007.

Many of the players on the alumni roster also played for Reck while in high school. One of them was current Pirates coach Cheyenne Deitrich, who was going up against her current team. Deitrich let her players know that they would be in for a battle when she engaged in some trash talk with them as the teams wrapped up their pre-game warm-ups. “They heckle me big time,” she said of her players. “They’re on it. They give me a hard time – but in a good way.” While the game is a fun way to test her players on the court, Deitrich said it also provides a good opportunity to coach them in real game-time situations.

“It’s fun to see what they’re doing positive on the floor against me,” she said. “Plus I can grab them in the middle of the game and show them where they should be and pull them into the situation, in the moment. I can actually be on the floor coaching them.

“But they’re also head-hunting for me,” she added with a laugh, noting that her assistant John Halvorson, who has coached the varsity squad in the last two games, usually gets her tackled by the end.

Deitrich, who graduated in 2002, was also back on the court with her former teammate Kristine Pedersen. The two played four years together in high school, but Pedersen spends a large chunk of each year now working for non-profits in India. Pedersen, who also participated in last year’s game, said it was nice to be back around her former coach and teammates.

“Just being part of it all is pretty exciting,” she said. “Even the girls who are new alumni, we coached a lot of them in our YMCA summer camps. That’s the beauty of coming from a small community like this. It’s a nice dynamic.”

While nine former players actually suited up for the alumni team – including 2012 graduate Shelby Rivera, who was the youngest – there were others who showed up to watch. Among the alums in the stands were 1987 graduate Danielle Ritchko, who still holds the school’s single-game scoring record with 49 in her senior year, and Lydia Quiroga, a 1984 alumnus who was unable to participate due to a recent knee surgery.

Having come full circle as a player and coach, Deitrich said the game is a different emotional experience for her now than when she was in school going up against some of the best players in Santa Ynez history.

“When I was playing, I was scared of these great legends of Santa Ynez basketball coming out and kicking my butt,” she said, mentioning former players Erin Alexander, who played in the WNBA, and Denise Perez and Kristi Rohr, who each went on to play in college. “Now, as an alumni player, I’m coming out thinking, ‘Man, I’m out of shape.’ It’s more a fear of my condition now as opposed to a fear of my opponent.”

Reck said that a lot of older alumni don’t participate in the game for that same reason.

“Guys are different,” she said. “They’ll just come and play, and no matter how old they are, they think they’re great. Girls are more, ‘Oh, I’m out of shape,’ or ‘Oh, I haven’t shot in so many years.’”

Of course, sometimes life gets in the way as well. A lot of the players no longer live in the area, while others have children and jobs that prevent them from making it to Santa Ynez on a random Tuesday night. Former player Jackie Keel gave what Reck joked was a “weak excuse” that she would be unable to attend due to her duties as a helicopter pilot for the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

Reck said that sometimes just hearing from those former players is just as gratifying.

“To hear how many of them are coaching their kids’ teams and doing stuff like that is just the best,” she said. “When I started, there weren’t any female coaches in our league and there were very few female coaches period.”

Reck said she raised her own kids around the gym, adding that they’d be off in the corner or in the back while she ran practices.

“A lot of (the former players) email about how that’s helped them so much,” she said. “It let them know that you don’t have to stop just because you have kids or things like that. And a lot of their daughters are playing sports, so that’s great, too.”

willis@syvjournal.com