Big Game stirs memories of local coaches

Chris Rabe presented the Gary Blades Trophy on Monday to Cheroke Cunningham's mother.

The Big Game was still on a lot people’s minds at Monday’s Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table press luncheon.

Chris Rabe presented the 17th Gary Blades Memorial Big Game MVP Trophy to Santa Barbara High’s Cheroke Cunningham, who became the first sophomore to win the award and the first winner to score four rushing touchdowns in the 52nd annual Santa Barbara-San Marcos city rivalry. The Dons won 35-21 at Warkentin Stadium.

Cunningham was at school but his family was in the house to accept the award on his behalf.

His mom, Melinda, accepted the trophy and thanked coach Jaime Melgoza and “all the Dons who have Cheroke’s back.”

SBCC football coach Craig Moropoulos said the Big Game has been part of his life from Day 1.

“I grew up as a fan of the Dons,” said Moropoulos, whose father, Mike, coached Santa Barbara football for many years. “I was a player for the Dons and a coach for the Dons, so I’ve been to many big games since the year I was born in 1960.”

Moropoulos credited both Melgoza and San Marcos head coach Dale Perizzolo for jobs well done with their respective teams.

Melgoza also acknowledged Perizzolo’s coaching in the Big Game.

“You’re doing a great job,” he said. “San Marcos has a lot of class and a lot of pride like we do.”

Carpinteria football coach Ben Hallock also played and coached for the Dons in the Big Game.

On the other side, Bishop Diego volleyball coach Jason Donnelly pointed out that he “was lucky enough to play in two big games.

“I played football at San Marcos — most people don’t know that. I went 1-1 in the Big Game 20 years ago, believe it or not.”

He said the game still stirs up emotions to those who graduated from the schools, and will always remain special.

“The text messages and e-mails go flying the week of the Big Game,” he said. “Congratulations to both teams. You’ll have that game in your mind, whether you win or lose, for the rest of your lives.”

In other highlights from the luncheon:

—Bishop Diego’s Nic Mon was honored as that school’s Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Nic Mon was named Bishop Diego's Scholar Athlete of the Year.

The multi-sport athlete (football, soccer, volleyball) has an impressive resume that includes several school and community activities and school, state and national academic honors. He holds a 4.52 grade point average while taking Advanced Placement chemistry and English. As a junior, he scored the highest test marks in AP physics, government, calculus and statistics.

His goal is to attend Stanford.

“If I had seen his resume before coming here, I would have told him to write a speech for me,” joked football Tom Crawford, who had Mon in his AP government class last year. “The character of Nic and the ability of someone like Nic to do what is right on and off the field really serves as a model for everyone at your school.

“Nic is the backbone of any successful program,” Crawford added. “The more Nic Mons you have, the more games you win and the more academic success you see. We’re thrilled for Nic and want to acknowledge this young man and his fine character.”

—Athletes of the Week: Bishop football player Brandon Gonzalez was the male award winner for his performance against Santa Clara. He rushed for 161 yards on 16 carries and scored three touchdowns in a 35-0 win that improved the Cardinals to 6-1 and 2-0 in the Frontier League.

Dos Pueblos volleyball player Amanda Moriarty was the female winner after her dominating performance in a four-set win at Santa Barbara that clinched a share of the Channel League title. She had 19 kills, 14 digs and five blocks.

DP's Amanda Moriarty was named female Athlete of the Week.

Brandon Gonzalez of Bishop Diego is the male Athlete of the Week.

—San Marcos football coach Dale Perizzolo said the Big Game loss was emotional, but he found a lot of positives in his team’s play. The Royals contained Cunningham in the first half and they played hard to the end. “Our guys never, ever, ever quit. They played to the last play,” he said.

—Mororpoulos said coming to the luncheon helps lift his spirits during this tough season. “It’s real easy when you win, and it’s tougher when you lose, but when you come in and you get positive reinforcement from guys like Gary Cunningham … He’s telling me, ‘Hey, hang in there.’ My response is: ‘We’ve got to, that’s what we do. We’re going to hang in there.’ “

The Vaqueros (0-8) play host to winless Glendale (0-7) on Saturday at La Playa Stadium.

—Melgoza acknowledged the Cunningham and Jimenez families, who were in attendance at Harry’s, as well as all the other Santa Barbara football families that support the program. He gave props to offensive line coach Mike Jimenez for his hard work and dedication.

The Dons (4-3) play at undefeated Ventura on Friday.

—Carpinteria is going pink on Friday at its Tri-Valley League home game against Oak Park. Hallock said the team will wear pink to bring awareness to breast cancer research.

—Crawford noted the importance of being 2-0 in league play going into Friday’s showdown with defending champion Grace Brethren. “We’ve put ourselves in a position where we control our own destiny in terms of playoffs,” he said.

—On his girls tennis team, Laguna Blanca tennis coach Johnny Sappaibon said: “We’re an underdog team, kind of like the Average Joe’s from the movie Dodge Ball. We’re playing Cate in a couple of matches this week, and I hear they’re the Globo Gym of the league.”

—Donnelly said he feels much better now after hearing all the academic accomplishments of Bishop Diego Scholar Athlete of the Year, Nic Mon. “I’ve openly and publicly admitted how much smarter Nic Mon was than myself. As volleyball coach, sometimes you’ve got to have a lot of confidence in one of your players in how much smarter they are. Well, after hearing that list of athlete accomplishments, I don’t feel so bad anymore.”

—The performance of senior Natalia Lozano and the UCSB women’s tennis team at the ITC Regionals helped coach Pete Kirkwood land a big fish on his schedule. Kirkwood said USC’s coach told him they’d like to play the Gauchos in the spring.

“We got them on the schedule based on the results of this tournament,” said Kirkwood.

—Laguna Blanca eight-man football coach Ray Robitaille said the Owls’ big game against Cate is Saturday in Hope Ranch. The start time was pushed back from 1 to 3 p.m. because of SAT testing.

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