UCLA in the Community

UCLA hosts sports day for both disadvantaged and developmentally disabled youth

A Bruin, father of an autistic daughter, brings kids together for love of sports

Prime Time Games at UCLA
Courtesy of UCLA Athletics

Prime Time Games, organized for all-inclusion teams of children from disadvantaged schools and children with developmental disabilities, takes place this weekend, with UCLA student-athletes serving as coaches and mentors.

More than 100 UCLA student-athletes will be reversing their roles Saturday when they become the mentors and head coaches to hundreds of middle-school students from disadvantaged and underserved schools in Los Angeles and their teammates, children with developmental disabilities.

The youngsters are participants in Team Prime Time, an after-school program held at six LAUSD schools where both groups of children interact and build friendships through sports. On Saturday, May 30, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the UCLA campus, they will gather for the start of the sixth annual Prime Time Games, playing basketball and soccer under the guidance of UCLA student athletes, who will serve as their mentors, coaches and ambassadors during the event.

“It’s a great experience for them [the middle-school students], but honestly, it’s just as fun for us,” said men’s basketball player Bryce Alford at last year’s event. “The whole team — all the athletes here love to come out and support the cause.”

Opening ceremonies will begin at 8 a.m. on UCLA’s North Athletic Field. Soccer commences soon thereafter, while the basketball teams will compete in the Student Activities Center. Team Prime Time’s Varsity Games full-inclusion high school basketball league will determine the city championship and conclude the event.

UCLA head athletic performance coach Mike Linn brought the Prime Time Games to UCLA in 2009.

“It has been so satisfying watching this event grow into one of our department’s primary outreach programs,” Linn said. “Community service is usually all about what experiences we can give to the recipients. The Prime Time Games is one of those unique programs that lets participants give back just as much as they receive. The lessons in humility, selflessness and mentorship have lasting effects for our student-athletes.”

Mike Linn (first row, far right) and UCLA student-athletes who participated in Prime Time Games.

Linn, a 1995 UCLA alumnus who was a student-athlete, married fellow student-athlete Karen Nelson; the couple has two children. In 1998, he became UCLA’s head strength and conditioning coach. But when his 2-year-old daughter Kylie was diagnosed with autism in the fall of 2001, he resigned his post at UCLA. One week later, the family moved to the Midwest so that his daughter could get treatment.

“We did what any parent would do when presented with a challenge involving the health of a child,” Linn said. “We attacked it head on and found a solution. At the time of our daughter’s diagnosis, little was known about the best way to treat autism. What was known was that early intervention through ongoing therapy, such as occupational, speech, behavioral and other forms, was critical. The state of Missouri offered some of the best programs in those areas at the time.”

While the Linns are “Bruins through and through,” he said, they never expected to return to UCLA until they were presented with the opportunity in 2008 to return, with Linn once again back in his old job. “At that point, our daughter’s transformation was remarkable, and we felt it was the right time to come home.”

He made one request: “I wanted the opportunity to create an annual charitable event that would bring together our UCLA athletes with autistic children.”

In the fall of 2004, the Prime Time Games began with just 20 athletes from LAUSD schools. By spring 2005, the program had nearly tripled in size. To date, more than 500 athletes with developmental disabilities — ranging from autism to Down syndrome — have participated in the Prime Time Games.

At the core of the games lies the very simple premise that bringing two high-risk populations together, united by a shared love of sport, will generate lasting benefits for everyone involved, said Linn.

“Any child with a disability gets a sense of belonging — of being normal — when they are included in day-to-day activities that we all take for granted, such as sports,” Linn said. As for the parents of special needs children, “to see their child playing soccer with their peers on a college campus like UCLA … that kind of joy happens once in a lifetime.” 

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