John Zant: ‘Silky’ Erica Schroeder surprises with State Championship


A state track-and-field champion from Santa Barbara comes along about as often as a winner of horse racing’s Triple Crown. Since the first state high school meet in 1913, only 11 area athletes have stood at the top of the podium. The latest is San Marcos sophomore Erica Schroeder, who won the girls’ 800 meters last Saturday at the Buchanan High track in Clovis.

She did not do it American Pharoah–style, coming in as a favorite and running away with it. In Friday’s heats, she barely squeaked into the final as the 12th-fastest qualifier. A handicapper would have pegged her as the longest shot in the race. When two girls fell out — disqualified for a false start and for cutting off another runner in a second unsuccessful start — Schroeder still had to race nine girls who had run faster than she ever had. But the odds did not faze her, and neither did the tension at the starting line.

John Zant's column appears each week in the Santa Barbara Independent.


John Zant’s column appears
each week in the
Santa Barbara Independent


If there is a racehorse whose style Schroeder emulated, it was Silky Sullivan, who in the late ’50s electrified crowds with his finishing speed. He would make other horses appear to stand still as he blazed from last place to first. His fans called him “Mr. Heart Attack.” It’s a good thing Schroeder’s family and friends are in good shape, because she made them crazily excited. She was in ninth place as she followed the leaders in the second of two circuits around the track, but as her rivals labored down the stretch with muscle fatigue, the 10th-grader powered past them to win in 2:07.08, her best time by two seconds and the fastest in the state this year.

Only two other runners were among the area’s past state champions, both from Carpinteria High, both winning boys’ 1,600-meter titles: Tom Grewe in 1982 and Coley Candaele in 1990. San Marcos has had two other champs: Rory Kenward in the discus in 1968, and Tom Richards in the pole vault in 1988. Four area athletes were shot-put winners: Sam Cunningham (he played some football, too) of Santa Barbara High in 1968; Noah Bryant of Carpinteria in 2002; Nicholas Scarvelis of Dos Pueblos in 2011; and his sister, Stamatia Scarvelis, a three-time champ in 2012-13-14. She also won the discus last year.

The 16th edition of the mile races through downtown Santa Barbara drew more than 1,000 participants last Sunday and featured some close finishes by the elite runners trying to grab a $1,000 prize. Jorge Jabaz, a 28-year-old distance coach at Concordia University in Irvine, was chasing Daniel Herrera with a block to go in the men’s race. “He looked like he was getting comfortable,” said Jabaz. “I thought positive and went for it.” Herrera, 22, was taken by surprise. “Oh, my gosh,” said Herrera, who graduates from UCLA this week. “He got me so late I couldn’t respond.” Both runners were timed in 3:54, but Jabaz got there first.

Tracee van der Wyk of Temple City won the women’s elite race by a second over Ann Dunn of Norman, Oklahoma. The winning time of 4:33 tied the women’s overall record.

Josh Helton of San Luis Obispo shattered the record in the Dog Mile with his bulldog-lab mix, Bro, in a stunning 4:15.

FEE-FI-FO-FIFA: In 2010, when Sepp Blatter announced that Qatar had been chosen to host the 2022 World Cup of soccer, James Rafferty put a poster in the window of his Ortega Street bar, the Press Room. “WANTED,” it says under a picture of Blatter, framed by a red-white-and-blue toilet seat. “FOR CRIMES AGAINST FOOTBALL.”

Erica Schroeder (Paul Wellman Photo)

Erica Schroeder claimed an unlikely State Championship as a sophomore last week in Fresno. (Paul Wellman Photo)

The corruption that has long been suspected of FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, under Blatter’s presidency is finally catching up with him, in the wake of the charges made by U.S. authorities against his cronies. But Blatter’s resignation won’t be the end of it, Rafferty said. “They need a clean sweep,” he said. “They need somebody not connected with FIFA to take over.”

While Rafferty was fuming about FIFA, there was a drama developing on the TV screen. The U.S. men’s soccer team came back from a 3-1 deficit to score a 4-3 victory over the Netherlands. Patrons pounded the bar in disbelief. “The downfall of Blatter wasn’t a surprise,” Arthur Biancone said, “but nobody expected this.”

A day later came the crowning of Barcelona, the world’s most attractively successful soccer club, as the winner of the European Champions tournament with a 3-1 win over Juventus of Italy. A crowd turned out at the Casa Blanca restaurant to watch the match and donate to the Santa Barbara Soccer Club, which is sending three teams — the boys’ and girls’ U17s and the boys’ U19s — to the U.S. Youth Soccer Regional Championships at Boise, Idaho. Check out

Inside the Press Room, 24 flags are hanging from the rafters, each representing a country in the 2015 Women’s World Cup. All but two will be taken down by the time of the final match on July 5. U.S. fans expect the Stars and Stripes to be there, and I wouldn’t bet against it, but the women’s game has grown stronger internationally since America got the jump on the rest of the world with college players like UCSB’s Carin Jennings-Gabarra and North Carolina’s Mia Hamm. The U.S. has not won the Cup since 1999.

The drought-ending quest began Monday as the U.S. fought off Australia, 3-1, in a Group D match. It’s perhaps the most competitive group in the tournament. Next up for the U.S. are Sweden (Fri., June 12) and Nigeria (Tue., June 16), a pair of teams that looked very dangerous in playing to a 3-3 tie.

HE’S NO. 1: Among the nation’s pitchers, that is, UCSB right-hander Dillon Tate was the first to go Monday in the Major League Draft. He was the No. 4 pick overall, following three shortstops. The Texas Rangers chose Tate, by far the highest-drafted Gaucho player ever. Tate can thank UCSB and Coach Andrew Checketts for helping him develop from a freshman project to a lights-out closer as a sophomore and a solid starter this past season. If he keeps improving in the Rangers’ system, we’ll see him in the Big Show someday.