Olympians Sami Hill, Barbara Nwaba inspire at Women & Girls in Sports Luncheon

By Rochelle Rose

This week’s Women & Girls in Sports Luncheon, sponsored by the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table, honored two local 2016 Olympians.

The Celebration of Local Olympians honoring Sami Hill (Team USA for water polo) and Barbara Nwaba (Team USA for track and field) was part of SBART’s observance of the 45th anniversary of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.

The groundbreaking federal law states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Cara GamberdellaSBART president, opened the program by reading the Title IX section of the law. Significantly, Title IX opened the doors for generations of young female athletes to compete in sports, unlike their predecessors, who did not have the advantage.

“Despite extraordinary expansion of opportunity for women athletes, still today, three-fifths of girls don’t participate in sports,” Gamberdella said. “Only 40 percent of high school girls play sports. This is a message to the 450 local female high school and college athletes and their coaches in the room today. We want you to know that this community supports you; you are on the right path.”

The next order of business was recognition of SBART’s Athletes of the Week, which Noohawk sports editor Barry Punzal presented to Anna Cable, water polo goalkeeper for Dos Pueblos High School, and Brandon Garcia, soccer forward for Santa Barbara High School.

Also acknowledged were Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara representatives Samantha Alvarez and Jelaf Altoma, who were on hand to provide scholarship information to student athletes.

Catherine Remak from radio station K-LITE then moderated a question-and-answer session with the young Olympians, who shared with the audience their Olympic experiences at the 2016 Games, as well as their journeys to athletic and personal excellence.

Hill, the grand daughter of Santa Barbara businessman Sam Battistone, was a goalie on the women’s water polo team that took the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro. She notched six saves for the United States. She also tallied 14 saves in the 2016 FINA World League Super Final, and saved 18 goals to help Team USA qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games.

At UCLA, Hill helped the Bruins to the NCAA Championship match and runner-up finish in 2014 and 2015 as well as the 2013 NCAA Tournament, finishing in third place. A 2010 Dos Pueblos High School graduate, Hill was a four-year member of the varsity water polo team that won three CIF Championships and went 31-0 in her senior season.

“People ask what it was like to train for water polo,” Hill said. “In high school, we hit the deck at 5:15 a.m. and practiced for two hours and then went to school. It was the same at UCLA, except they added (weight) lifting. I didn’t do anything except practice and study.

“When I prepared for the Olympics in Long Beach, it was for two years. We had a total of 11 days off in two years. I leaned on my family and my teammates during difficult times. The end goal — getting to the Olympics — was bigger than what the struggles were.”

Nwaba is a 2016 U.S. Olympian and two-time defending U.S. champion in the heptathlon as well as this year’s U.S Indoor Pentathlon champion. In 2015, Nwaba set the sixth-best U.S. all-time heptathlon score at the USA Outdoor Championships with 6,500 points en route to winning the gold medal and setting a personal record.

A 2012 graduate of UCSB, Nwaba is a four-time NCAA All-American, an eight-time All-Big West and six-time Big West Champion. A Los Angeles native, Nwaba is also a coach and mentor to aspiring youth track and field athletes with the Santa Barbara Track Club.

“I come from a large family, and we all were encouraged to participate in sports,” Nwaba said. “But I always remember the women that paved the way for me.

“Education and sports go together. What makes you a success in sports is the same as what makes you successful in school and in life — commitment, dedication, hard work and showing up on time.”

Nwaba said she has committed the next several years to trying to compete in the 2020 Olympics. It’s still up in the air for Hill, who said she will decide by May when practice begins.

The luncheon ended with a Q&A session that was limited to just the student athletes in the hall.

When asked about what it felt like the moment her water polo team won gold at the Olympics, Hill answered, “I thought that this is the moment I have been waiting and preparing for since I was 12 years old. I was in the water when we won. It was the best moment of my life.”

Union Bank’s Randy Weiss, left, with Laurie Leighty of sponsor America Riviera Bank and Penny Sharrett of Union Bank.

Union Bank’s Randy Weiss, left, with Laurie Leighty of sponsor America Riviera Bank and Penny Sharrett of Union Bank.

All 450 student athletes attending were treated to a complimentary buffet lunch that was supported by sponsors including Village Properties, the Bull Foundation, Broadview Mortgage, the B4T9 Women’s Cycling TeamDeering DesignFidelity / Chicago TitleFirst American TitleMaho Prentice Attorneys at LawMontecito Bank & TrustNye Peabody Stirling Hale & Miller LLPUCSB AthleticsBlendersJensen Audio VisualNoozhawkRamadaUnion Bank, the Goleta Lions Club, the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara, Sol Soccer ClubSpecial Olympics and UCSB Title IX.

Established in 1968, the mission of the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table is to recognize and support athletic participation as an important means of fostering discipline, teamwork, self-respect, personal responsibility and camaraderie.

It provides a public forum for area athletic coaches and athletes; grants financial support to organizations, teams and individuals to further their participation in sports; and publicly honors athletic performance, scholastic achievement and exemplary ethical behavior.

Click here for more information, or email Gamberdella at cara(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)villagesite.com or call event co-chair Sarai Anderson at 928.710.1811.


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