By Travis Gibson (email@example.com) The Tribune
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - The basketball court at Cuesta College became an escape Saturday for the Santa Barbara City College women’s basketball team.
With it’s gym converted to a Red Cross evacuation center serving as temporary shelter to around 100 people displaced by the deadly mudslides that hit Montecito early Tuesday, SBCC has been left without a basketball home.
The team has been practicing at nearby Bishop Diego High School all week. Its game against Cuesta to open conference play Saturday was scheduled to be played in Santa Barbara, but instead of canceling or rescheduling to the end of the year, head coach Sandrine Krul asked Cuesta women’s basketball head coach Ron Barba for a favor — play host.
Barba, without hesitation, said yes.
“When situations like this happen, basketball is the furthest thing from my mind,” Barba said Saturday. “Mine is about the humanitarian side of this thing.”
Cuesta players and coaches wanted to do more than just play host to Santa Barbara, they wanted them to feel at home. So the team got together to offer a small gesture of support.
“We knew it was affecting them, so we decided if that was us we would hope our community would help us,” Cuesta sophomore and Righetti graduate Courtney Barba said.
Before the start of the 5 p.m. game, Cuesta players invited Santa Barbara to join them at center court and presented them with small gift bags that read “Santa Barbara Strong.” Krul was handed a decorated posterboard signed by each of the Cuesta players.
“It was just a way of saying, ‘Hey, we are thinking of you,’ ” Ron Barba said.
The public address announcer led a moment of silence before tip-off for the mudslide victims, which as of Saturday evening included 19 deaths and five more people missing.
“You say a lot of prayers,” Krul said. “You take it as a teaching opportunity for the young kids you coach, that there’s a big world out there, and right now we need as much positive energy in the universe because there is a new normal happening. The hardest part is just dealing with the death and the devastation.”
The indefinite closure of a 6-mile stretch of Highway 101 that has made travel difficult has also fractured the Santa Barbara team. SBCC freshman guard Sophia Torres, who lives in Carpinteria south of the Highway 101 closure, wasn’t able to join the team for Saturday’s game. To do so, Torres would have had to made the six-hour detour up Interstate 5.
But Santa Barbara players still consider themselves lucky. Krul, who called Cuesta “classy” for hosting the team on such short notice, said they have been doing their best to donate to mudslide victims affected in an area already hit hard by the Thomas Fire just last month.
“It is really heartbreaking to see,” Mission Prep graduate and Santa Barbara freshman Michaela Berber said.
She was in Santa Barbara when disaster struck.
“We hear helicopters coming back and forth all the time,” she said. “There is just a lot going on. We are blessed not to be in the middle of it.”
Both Krul and Berber were excited to be in Cuesta’s gym and focused on an important conference game away from the devastation that has become all too common — even if it was just for a few hours. The Santa Barbara men’s team also played Cuesta on Saturday night in a game that was originally scheduled to be played in San Luis Obispo.
“That’s what is great about basketball,” Berber said, “we can just be in the moment and not worry about any problems.”
Santa Barbara City College was scheduled to resume classes following winter break Tuesday, but Berber said students were recently informed the semester would be pushed back another week while cleanup and rescue efforts continue.
“It affects everybody’s way of life down there. And some people are still missing, and we are worried about a damn basketball game. Let’s put this in perspective,” Ron Barba said. “This is our home gym. But to me, they are family. It could happen to us.”
Click here for a list of ways to help the Montecito mudslide victims.