The Santa Ynez Valley Union High School Board has approved renaming the school’s football field Rio Memorial Field in honor and memory of the late Jeff and Carl Rio.
The board made the approval at its Tuesday, May 16 meeting.
Jeff Rio died in a car accident in 1996. Carl Rio, his father, died after a battle with cancer in 2016. Both were long-time figures in the Santa Ynez football program.
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Santa Ynez football coach and physical education teacher Josh McClurg made the proposal for the name change during the April board meeting. McClurg, a 1994 Santa Ynez graduate, was coached by Jeff Rio then coached with Carl Rio.
“It is rare to find a family that had such a lasting impression on an athletic program,” McClurg said. “Between Jeff’s time as a player and team leader in the mid-80s, to his time as a coach in the 90s and then to Carl coaching from 1999 until 2014, they were involved in the football program for four decades.”
The celebration of life for Jeff Rio was held at the Santa Ynez football stadium.
Former Santa Ynez football coach Ken Gruendyke said, “The whole place was packed, and it was unbelievable…it was something I will never forget.”
After Jeff Rio’s passing, his father did not attend a football game until 1998. McClurg said that after Carl Rio saw the Santa Ynez players wearing black armbands with “Rio” on them and a banner with Jeff Rio’s No. 66, “Carl realized that Jeff was still part of the program’s culture and decided to help with the program.”
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Carl Rio became the one in charge of the equipment, an assistant trainer, boosters club member “and a father figure to so many young men.”
“Just like his son, he became a huge part of the program. Also, tragically, Carl passed away in 2016 after a battle with cancer,” a press release said.
The news release stated that the Santa Ynez football program honors the Rio family in the form of the No. 66 on the tunnel the team runs out of before home games, the football golf cart that is named “Carl’s ride,” Carl and Jeff Rio’s picture in the locker room, the Rio Memorial Golf Tournament, the Jeff Rio Memorial Scholarship, and now Rio Memorial Field.
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Santa Ynez will play its first game on Rio Memorial Field Sept. 8, 2023. At that time, according to the news release, the football boosters will unveil a new sign and press box.
Kenny Cress is a sports reporter for the Santa Maria Times, covering local sports in northern Santa Barbara County. You can send information or story ideas to him by emailing it to [email protected].