As a Division 1 track and field athlete at UC Santa Barbara, Holly Tarr became all too familiar with the struggles many of her fellow student-athletes go through on a daily basis – balancing school work with sports, all while trying to keep a job to support herself through college.
She has since graduated and gone on to take a job as a legislative staffer for state Sen. Nancy Skinner (Democrat – Berkeley), but her personal background as a student-athlete helped her provide valuable perspective during the most recent legislative session to enact a landmark change in law that has garnered national attention.
The former Marysville student helped develop Senate Bill 206 – signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 30 – that will see eligible student-athletes in the state get paid if their names, images, or likeness are used to make a profit from their respective institutions or organizations like the NCAA beginning in 2023.
“This time last year, we were developing ideas on what could we make for (Senator Skinner’s) bill package, something she could work on that was different. I was an athlete in college, so I mentioned, ‘what about doing a bill to pay college athletes,’” Tarr said. “At first it was a big, ambitious idea, but actually now that it’s passed, it has grown into a national thing. There are 13 other states that have since reached out to ask for the language because they will be introducing it during the next legislative session.”
Tarr, 23, was fresh out of college, having graduated in 2018, and only about a month into her new gig in the senator’s office, but she was still confident enough to speak up during the process and maintain a voice throughout development of the bill. Aside from her own experience, she said it was an important topic for her because she has other family members that it could impact – her brother is currently a student-athlete in college and one of her cousins is also in the process of choosing a college as a top prospect in his field.
“I experienced the struggle, so I understood how important something like this would be,” she said. “I worked two jobs, took a double load of units because I was a double major in environmental studies and political science, so it would’ve been nice to receive some sort of compensation from sports while I was doing it. That would’ve allowed me to focus more on my athletics and academics instead of having to spend so many hours working.”
It’s been a whirlwind of a year for the Yuba-Sutter native, working as a staffer at the state Capitol on a handful of different committees for the senator. She said she’s hooked now that she’s been involved in the process.
“It’s completely rewarding, knowing something you worked on so hard and put so many hours into, seeing it come to fruition and is widely talked about nationwide, it’s very exciting and also humbling,” Tarr said. “It makes you think, what other big idea can we come up with next year. I’m very proud.”
It wasn’t until college that she first starting pursuing politics, but she had grown an appreciation for it years before while she was a student at Marysville High School. Tarr returned to her old stomping grounds last week to speak to students from a few different classes, including one of her former teachers, Steve White.
“I really liked Mr. White’s honors civics class. I loved reading my textbook, which is such a nerdy thing, but I loved to read about old history and old policies,” Tarr said. “…That’s where I started to get my itch for politics in that exact classroom, so to be able to go back an talk and offer a few internships and opportunities for some of the students, that’s the best feeling.”
White has taught for 22 years. He said Tarr’s story is inspiring and gives him great pride knowing that he was somehow involved in giving her that initial push into politics.
“It just brings me joy knowing that she was bit by the bug here in my advanced placement government and politics class,” White said. “When I saw the student-athlete bill, I followed it but didn’t know she was involved because her name was never on it. So, when she came and talked to my class and told us the story, it about knocked me out of my chair. It just makes me proud, this is the kind of reason I wanted to get into this business in the first place, to make an impact on young lives.”
Tarr still lives in the Yuba-Sutter area and commutes to Sacramento for work. She hopes her story can inspire other young adults to get involved in politics, whether it be to effect change at their schools and local communities or at the state and national level.
“If you have an opinion on something you want changed, there is a way to have your opinion and voice heard. Politics is the way to go,” Tarr said. “I just think that if you have an opinion and you think there is something in your school or surrounding area that should be better, even as young as high school, you have an opportunity to make it happen. You just have to go out and make your voice heard.”