SYHS also competing in eSports

By Raiza Giorgi

The SYHS Pirates will once again be marauding the fields for various outdoor sports starting this month, as the Santa Barbara County Public Health officials have given the green light to once again “play ball”.

Santa Ynez Valley Union High School Athletic Director Ashley Coelho announced upcoming schedules for several fall sports including boys and girls water polo, football and hosting girls volleyball outdoors. 

“Staying positive, and pushing through challenging times paid off. Keep the hope and we will keep continuing the good fight,” Coelho wrote on her social media. 

The first games that will start are for Boys Waterpolo and Head Coach Jake Kalkowski said they are ready to get in the water and play. 

“We just scrimmaged to get out the kinks and knowing this is now leading to a real game brought the energy of the team. It was so great to see their morale up. I have to hand it to the team being so dedicated even when it didn’t look like there would be a light at the end of the tunnel. They stuck with it and here we are,” Kalkowski said. 

The first game will be Saturday, March 6, against Paso Robles.

Varsity Football Coach Josh McClurg said his players are excited to finally get back on the playing field and recently started practicing with helmets and pads. 

“We got here by never giving up, and that is how I coach. You can only control what you are committed to and these kids are so resilient. Quitting is a learned behavior and we aren’t quitters,” McClurg. 

The football season starts Friday, March 19 at Lompoc High School and the first home game will be March 26 against Santa Barbara High School. 

While the games are starting, spectators will be limited to immediate households only of the players and those in attendance are asked to ensure social distancing between families, said Dr. Van Do-Reynoso of Santa Barbara County Public Health. 

The Pirates have been conditioning and staying ready to play since last fall, as Coelho submitted a 30-page business proposal this summer to the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department to get the athletes back to campus for workouts. High school sports will be doing a modified schedule and delayed seasons. Because of COVID-19, CIF officials have taken three seasons of sports and condensed it to two seasons of sports.

Originally the fall sports were supposed to start in December, but the rising case count prevented that from happening. At the beginning of the year, McClurg was concerned that if games didn’t start by March they would never have a season and their players would get left out of critical statistics they need to get noticed by scouts and colleges. 

A lot of the players attended the “Let Them Play” rally held on Jan. 15 at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. The rally saw players from not only Santa Ynez High, but Lompoc High, Santa Barbara High, Bishop Diego High and others. The “Let Them Play” movement was conceived to convince Gov. Gavin Newsom to allow high school student athletes to return to competition and the importance of youth sports. 

“When school was shut down last March our senior athletes were for the most part almost through all the seasons, and they have their junior games to show their growth year over year. That’s what scouts and recruiters look at,” McClurg explained. 

While outdoor sports are coming back, Santa Ynez High School has also become one of the 100 CIF-Southern Section schools registered to compete in the 2021 esports season.

At Santa Ynez, 23 students have registered to play for the Pirates, according tod Coelho.

The team is scheduled to start competition in March.

Jason Finley is the head coach of the Santa Ynez esports team. He also coaches girls basketball and is an assistant on the varsity football team. He’ll be assisted by Coelho, Greg Gandolfo and Sara Ovadia. Gandolfo also serves as an assistant football and baseball coach; Ovadia coaches boys and girls golf, and JV girls basketball.

The Santa Ynez team will compete in the video games “Rocket League,” “Madden 21” and “League of Legends.” The other multiplayer esports games they could choose to play were “Smite” and “FIFA 21.”

Santa Ynez team members Jackson Ollenburger, Stone Wright and Aidan O’Neill said they are happy about the choice of games. The sophomores play at least one of them.

“I’ve been playing ‘Madden 21’ since 2016, 2017,” Ollenburger said. 

O’Neill also is an aficionado of the popular video football game: “I’ve played for about five years. I play ‘Rocket League’ a little bit as well.” 

“Rocket League” is described as a “hybrid of arcade-style soccer and vehicular mayhem.”

Wright said he is a regular “Rocket League” player.

The three gamers were active in the Santa Ynez sports program before the pandemic hit. Wright plays basketball, baseball and volleyball, O’Neill plays basketball and baseball, and Ollenburger plays basketball. All three said they will continue to play those sports when they resume.

“I wanted to get involved with esports because real life sports were up in the air,” O’Neill said. “Ms. Coelho has done a really good job setting this up for us.”

“My classroom is all set up with the equipment, but students can also play at home,” Coelho said. “They can use their laptop or any console to play. The only thing they can’t use is their cellphone.”

To see the schedules for the various sports visit and click on Athletics.

Noozhawk Sports Correspondent Kenny Cress contributed to this story.