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I’m going to do something different for this version of Zo’s Gold Mines. I won’t be highlighting an athlete or a coach.

Instead, I’m going to shine a light on someone who was known for shining a light on our area athletes, plus did it with such enthusiasm: Joni Gray.

The news of her death hit a number of people hard, including the one putting this column together. It’s not the kind of news you want to read or hear about during Thanksgiving week. I was in shock and disbelief over the news. And I began thinking about my experiences with Ms. Joni Gray — a number of great experiences in the last year.

Writing the Northern Santa Barbara County Athletic Round Table beat isn’t an easy task on my end. I’ll admit that as I shoot to highlight every coach, athletic director and athlete there. Sometimes, every team is represented inside Giavanni’s Pizzeria in Orcutt — and I try to jot down as many names as I can and make sure their names are correct.

But as the main organizer of the Round Table, Joni was always helpful and appreciative of my work — plus made sure the Round Table worked with us on putting the story together by sending us the names of who was present. That’s one memory I’ll have of her: How rapid she was with the Round Table on getting the media what we needed. But there are other fond memories.

She was always the first one from the Round Table to strike up a conversation with me. Often times, it was on our favorite college football team: USC. Either we talked about how we were pleased with how our Trojans played or how mad we were if they looked flat on the field.

One of my favorite USC conversations with Joni came after the USC-Washington State game recently, which was won by the latter 30-27. Joni walked over to me wearing a shirt with butterflies on them. But her reason for wearing that shirt drew a huge laugh from me:

“I’ve got my USC shirt on!” Because she wasn’t happy with how the Trojans played that night! She described USC as a bunch of butterflies after the loss to the Cougars.

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I’ll always remember her sense of humor the most. I’m sure it’s like that with several others who worked with her and grew close to her. One of them is Round Table treasurer Yvonne Biely, who shared this email on Wednesday:

“George (Joni’s husband) shared a moment that we could both chuckle about: After she was taken to the Marian Medical Center on Monday, she seemed to be doing better — so well that she wanted to be sure to get her football picks done for the week,” Biely said in the email. “I share that with a smile because we all know how Joni loved sports. We will miss her leadership, but I know we will all keep the traditions of Round Table going.”

Yes, Joni indeed loved her sports. She especially loved highlighting the athletes representing the North Santa Barbara County from Santa Maria to Santa Ynez. She was a community advocate, a sports fan and an ardent supporter of our region.

She’s a gold mine here. 

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