Ballfield named after Santa Barbara’s Coach O

 

Giving Bill Oliphant the opportunity to coach was like handing the car keys to a teen-ager. Once he got a taste of it, there was no turning back.

Oliphant has coached the lower-level baseball teams at Santa Barbara High for nearly 40 years. He had guys like Ryan Spilborghs, Matt Vasquez and Dylan Axelrod on the field at Santa Barbara Junior High before they became varsity stars and later professional ballplayers.

On Tuesday, the Santa Barbara Unified School District paid tribute to the longtime coach and teacher by naming the junior high diamond Oliphant Field.

Bill Oliphant has coached frosh-soph baseball at Santa Barbara for nearly 40 years.

Bill Oliphant has coached frosh-soph baseball at Santa Barbara for nearly 40 years.

“I can say, being a baseball parent myself, baseball is the American sport,” Santa Barbara Unified School District Superintendent David Cash said during a ceremony. “Bill Oliphant is a true American. It is unbelievably awesome that we get to, in this community, name this field after a gentleman like him.”

Oliphant has coached hundreds of ballplayers on the field. And he didn’t just teach them about baseball.

Former player Colin Eaton spoke of how Oliphant taught him life lessons.

“Through his coaching, I not only became a better baseball player but I learned a lot about life,” he said. “I became more responsible and a more knowledgeable human being. Thank you for not only believing in me, but not giving up on any single person ever. You well deserve having this field named after you.”

Longtime Santa Barbara High baseball coach Fred Warrecker believed in Oliphant when they hooked up back in the 1960s. He helped him get his first coaching job and years later brought him on board at Santa Barbara High.

“He’s almost been like my slightly younger brother,” Warrecker said. “I’ve known him since the days of Laguna Park, when I was pitching for the Foresters. I was 19 years old and he was a 12-, 13-year-old catcher that was always messing around in the bullpen.”

Oliphant recalled his first coaching gig as a 6th grade basketball coach at Dolores School.

“I was going to City College and I had a job I hated,” he said of working nights at a gas station. “Fred hooked me up.”

His basketball team was beating everybody and it caught the attention of the Santa Barbara Recreation Department. He was offered a job as a youth coach.

“I became a coach after school for $1.75 an hour and I loved it,” he said.

He coached pee-wee baseball during the summer at Mackenzie Park and battled against a team from Ortega Park that was coached by Warrecker.

Oliphant’s first job in the school district was at La Cumbre Junior High in the early 1970s.

He experienced the ups and downs of school budgets and layoffs, receiving a pink slip at the end of one school year and getting rehired the next. He got into officiating to help make ends meet.

“I remember umpiring, doing some coaching on the side; I dug ditches, I did everything I could think of to put food on the table,” he said. “By then I was a single dad and my son (Bryant) was a pretty good guy.”

Bryant is now a doctor in the St. Louis area.

Oliphant was stressing over another pink slip when Warrecker and his sons showed up at his house to tell him about a possible job opening at Santa Barbara High. He assisted Warrecker on the Dons varsity team the early 1970s.

The next thing he knew he was hired at his alma mater and he’s been there ever since.

“I had the pleasure to work with some really great people at Santa Barbara High: Mike Moropoulos, Gene Snyder and Bill Jackson, just three solid individuals,” Oliphant said. “I can’t thank them enough for giving me that shot. I still remember coach Snyder telling me, ‘Hey, don’t screw it up.’ He was my basketball coach and he became the principal.”

Oliphant said he had offers to coach at other schools but he enjoyed his teaching situation at Santa Barbara too much to leave. He taught history, leadership, social studies and the law. He also had a history with the school as his parents, his son, his son’s mother were all Dons.

“I found a home,” he said.

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