SANTA MARIA, Calif. - This coming Saturday night is shaping up to be a day to remember in Santa Maria.
A series of events are lined up to take place that will draw in thousands of people into the downtown area, including the lighting of the city Christmas tree, the Santa Maria Parade of Lights and a CIF championship football game at Santa Maria High School.
The parade and tree lighting have long been planned in advance. Added to the mix just last week was the football game, which the Saints earned with a semifinal victory over South El Monte.
"The students are excited," said Santa Maria athletic director Brian Wallace. "The alumni is overjoyed. I keep getting phone calls and text messages from people I know and people that I don't know at all, so a lot of electricity in the atmosphere."
The CIF Division 12 championship versus Big Bear will be the first title game ever in the long history of the school, which dates back more than one hundred years.
However, complicating matters for the historic event is the game was scheduled by the CIF-Southern Section for Saturday, Dec. 2, putting it on the same night as the Santa Maria Parade of Lights.
The popular event annually draws thousands of people to the downtown area. The parade begins at 5:20 p.m. and travels north on Broadway from Stowell Rd. to Cook St and marches right in front of the high school.
"There's lot of moving parts when you shut down a city this size to do a parade and then getting those streets back open in time so people can get to the game," said Wallace.
To make getting to the game easier, school officials have been successful in lobbying CIF to push the starting kickoff back from the original start time of 7 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.
"I really hope people come watch the parade," said Wallace. "It's going to end around 7:30 and they can pre-purchase a ticket and come on into the game."
Starting at 3 p.m. Stowell Rd. between Broadway and Depot St. will be closed. It's one of a handful of road closures scheduled to accommodate the parade.
Broadway will be closed starting from 4 p.m. through the duration of the parade, which is expected to last at least two hours.
City officials are advising people who are planning to attend the football game to pre-plan their route to the school. The access point to the parking lots close to Ralph Baldiviez Stadium will be from Morrison Ave.
"If you're coming by vehicle, the only way is going to be Morrison to Thornburg," said Santa Maria public information officer Mark van de Kamp. "There's going to be a traffic officer to guide you in and you can turn on Thornburg."
There will be free parking available at the school and on the street, while parking across the street at the (Santa Maria) Fairpark will cost $7.
"Both of those areas will be open to parking starting at 6:30 p.m., not earlier, so in order to avoid being stuck in a traffic jam, try and arrive around 6:30, about one hour before the game," van de Kamp said.
Wallace highly recommends anyone coming to the game should purchase tickets in advance to speed up their entry into the stadium.
"We've already sold a couple hundred," said Wallace. "The school is selling them out of our business office and they need to drive here to the school and purchase them in person. You can purchase as many as you want at a time."
Tickets for the game will cost $12 for adults and $5 for students with ID and children (5-13)
Van de Kamp expects about 10,000 people to attend the parade. Wallace said Baldiviez Stadium holds 3,500 seats.
Despite the large numbers, both believe everything should work out fine.
"People are used to doing large events at the high school. For instance, when we had the Bernie Sanders rally a couple of years ago we had 7,000 people in the stadium and no one complained about walking in from wherever they parked," said Wallace.
"We're designed for this," said van de Kamp. "The police department is really well versed at this parade and it should work out really well."