Paso Robles and Atascadero high school students are only athletes in SLO County selected for award

Tuesday morning, the Central Section CIF Director released the list of the 25 athletes in the Central Section that were selected as Scholar-Athletes and two students from North County, Paso Robles’ Tatiana Smeltzer and Atascadero’s Cael Cooper, landed on the list.

Commissioner Jim Crichlow’s list contained only 25 athletes from the over 120 schools that make up the Central Section, and each student-athlete selected will be presented with an award and a $500.00 monetary scholarship that they can apply towards college.

Smeltzer and Cooper were not just the only student-athletes selected in the North County but in the entire county of San Luis Obispo as Atascadero, and Paso Robles was the only central coast schools represented and nearly the only athletes in the entire coastal region (St. Joseph’s Zayda Altheide was the only other athlete in the Mountain/ Ocean league selected).

The awards called for a rigorous selection process and a compilation of all of one’s accomplishments, awards, records and contributions to the community over a student-athletes four years in high school, including a letter of recommendation from the principal, athletic director, coach and counselor. The nominations had to be submitted by mid-February and, amid all the commotion of the COVID-19 crisis, the athletes had nearly forgotten about it.

“Honestly, I was just kind of surprised because that had been pushed to the back of my mind for so long that I just figured I didn’t get it,” Smeltzer said. “I instantly got on the phone with my parents because they are both at work and told them I got it. Then I was looking at the other 25 and noticed that other than me that there was only one kid that was local from Atascadero in Cael Cooper so it just sort of put it into perspective of what an honor it is and each time I talk about it I feel more honored.”

The award was made for student-athletes like Smeltzer, who exemplify what it is excel both on and off the field, pool or court. In her four years in the pool, playing both water polo and swimming, Smeltzer has been entirely dominant and her resume is undeniable. For the past three years, the six-foot-tall swimmer has been voted the MVP of the Bearcats water polo team as well as earning league MVP and North County Water Polo Player of The Year and All-CIF this past fall in her senior season. Smeltzer also currently holds the school record for most goals in a career and a season, as well as the most steals. In swimming, she currently holds two school records, the 100-meter backstroke, and is also apart of the 200-medley relay team, and was almost certainly headed to state this spring had her season not been cut short.

Off the field, Smeltzer currently has a 4.42 GPA and donates much of her time to volunteer work in the community.

While she might have questioned if she would make the list, those around her were a little more confident.

“To be quite honest, I had a 100% good feeling that she was going to be chosen because of all her accomplishments and all that she has achieved and all that she has done,” Paso Robles Athletic Director Anthony Morales said. “We have roughly 600 athletes participating in sports, and Tatiana is right up there at the very top with her academics as well as her athletics. Just looking at her academics, a 4.4 GPA is pretty impressive to have even without sports, taking those AP courses, etc. She is a very good role model, especially inside the classroom.”

The scholar-athlete award also recognizes a students extracurricular involvement , which is a place Smeltzer also excels. Just before the shutdown of the schools and all social gathering she was preparing to work on her Gold Star with the Girl Scouts, something she might not be able to achieve now if regulations don’t loosen up in the near future.

The Bearcat senior signed her letter of intent back in November to continue her career as a student-athlete at Cal State Northridge.

Not only does the award recognize great student-athletes, it also recognizes great leaders which were some of Cooper’s most substantial contributions. As a dedicated three-sport athlete, Cooper competed in football, wrestling and track every season and even helped lead the Greyhounds wrestling team to their first league title in nearly a decade.

“It was honestly a little surprising to me because I was just not expecting it,” Cooper said. “With everything that has been going on with the school shutting down and everything I kind of figured, I would never hear about it again, but it was actually a good surprise when our athletic director Facetimed me and told me the news.”

As an 8-time varsity letterman, Cooper is as versatile an athlete as there is but really shined on the wrestling mat. In each of the four years he wrestled for Atascadero, Cooper ended the season with the utmost respect from his peers. In his first season, he was voted the most valuable freshman and followed that up with a promotion to varsity and the most valuable sophomore award in his second year.

As a junior wrestler, he helped lead the Greyhounds boys wrestling team to the top GPA in CIF Central Section, earned another team MVP, and also ended the season as an ironman (did so again as a senior), meaning he didn’t miss a single practice. In his senior season, Atascadero went undefeated in league and took home their first title since 2011, with much of the team’s successes being attributed to the work of the seniors in practice.

On the field, Cooper has twice been selected as an all-league defensive back in football as well as working closely with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and currently serves as the organization’s treasurer.

Leadership was mentioned in all four of the letters of recommendation presented for Cooper and is something he spent time working on even at the slight expense of his studies.

“I am currently ranked no. 15, I think. So, not in the range of valedictorian because I let off a little bit on the AP classes and the honors classes,” Cooper said. “Even though I can take them, I let off because I wanted to focus more on being involved with clubs and be a leader on my sports teams. So I let off a little on the academic side to be a part of those things.”

Even with more of a typical load, his junior and senior year Cooper still currently holds a 4.3 GPA.

When Cooper isn’t practicing, he spends time working with his church and works Sunday mornings with children at Atascadero Bible Church, which is where he says he would like to spend the next couple years of his life after high school. Cooper plans to apply for the church’s internship program and would like to continue providing service-type mission projects both locally and abroad.

Getting through this together, Atascadero