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The inaugural All-Star football game, pitting northern Santa Barbara County high schools against San Luis Obispo teams, was battled out on Pioneer Valley High School’s field to a southern victory.

The 14 teams that make up the Los Padres and Pac-7 leagues took down their northern adversaries 29-7 on an evening when only the weather was damp.

“Our cross-town rivals really opened up their arms to us,” said Bill Brown of Santa Ynez, who noted that the entire program was a lot of fun for the kids from the very beginning. “From day one, the athletes checked their egos at the door and played well together.”

Team members from Santa Ynez Valley Union High School were Daniel Fournier, Cody Warning, Cole Hollingsworth, Jason Miranda, Andrew Miller and Jake Jacobsen. The all-star coaches were from Lompoc, St. Joseph and Pioneer Valley.

To be eligible to play on the team, said Luke Llamas of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) – the organizing entity – students must have been named All League First Team last fall, be a graduating senior in good academic standing “and not be in any other sort of trouble.”

As a charitable institution, FCA was able to provide insurance for the event, and could facilitate the financial contributions many local businesses stepped up to make. In return, they were able to further their goal of providing venues where good character and sportsmanship are as important as winning.

The character/influence award and scholarship was awarded to Lompoc’s Zach Powell at game’s end.

It took seven months of collaborating, negotiating and organizing to put in place all the aspects of the event, which was enjoyed by many. Both Brown and Llamas said that from what they could see, the athletes jumped at the chance to play alongside former rivals while at the same time raising money for their soon-to-be alma maters.

Llamas says that each school was given 500 pre-sale tickets to sell, and that they were able to keep the proceeds from those tickets for the school athletic department to use as they see fit. It is estimated that slightly fewer than 5,000 people attended the event.

“The last I heard,” said Brown “was that Santa Ynez had raised something in the neighborhood of $6-7,000.”

Local car dealerships each contributed up to $2,500, which was raffled off to one lucky winner in the form of a voucher for the purchase of a car. Likewise, a lottery was used to determine which of the participating dealerships the voucher was to be used at. Llamas says that about half of the dealerships have already signed on to participate next year.

KCOY was an active sponsor, providing advertizing for the businesses that partook and giving the players their moment in the spotlight.

“We really tried to make this a first-class event,” said Llamas. And community businesses stepped up to help. The players all received a myriad of gifts and mementos for their efforts. But for many, the best gift was the chance to play one last game.

With the stands on both sides packed, the unusual June rain gave way in time for a clear start to the game. With a rainbow glowing in the distance, the San Luis team received the first kick-off. “It was pretty even-Steven at the outset,” said Brown.

“I think they all had a lot of fun,” he claimed. “Of course, the ones that got to play more had more fun.” As a rule, the Lompoc team members got a little more play time, but then it was their coach calling the shots and he was using plays his team members were already familiar with. In the end, it was a team effort and a team win.

Fournier and Miller got a lot of playing time and performed well, said Brown. “It’s not that the offensive players didn’t do well – they just didn’t get a lot of playtime. Miranda and Hollingsworth got maybe five touches,” says Brown, who wasn’t complaining. When you have 60 or so of the best players on each team, it’s hard to rotate them all in given the amount of time it takes to play the game.

The first touchdown, in the hands of Lompoc’s Marcel Blow, and extra point went to the blue-jerseyed southern team. But with the help of Paso Robles’ Jacob Searcy, their northern opponents evened things up by the half. The turning point came in the hands of Santa Ynez’s Cody Warning.

“We punted. They fumbled. Cody recovered the fumble,” explained Brown. “That set us up for a safety, which put us ahead 9-7.” From there, the northern team lost its steam. “In the end, I think we were just more physically fit than they were,” said Brown. Many of the athletes never expected the opportunity to play high school football one more time and simply weren’t in shape to give their all.

But from the enthusiastic fans in the stands, to the excessive number of coaches on the sidelines and the huge, eager teams, it seemed that everyone gave all that they had.

As darkness and the storm front settled in, the Santa Barbara county team forged ahead, stayed focused and fast. In the end, they took home the bragging rights while everyone else had to settle for fond memories.

struax@syvjournal.com