The banners are raised, the sports facilities are ready and the Flame of Hope is winding its way toward Westwood on its way to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. For many, including thousands of UCLA Bruins on and off campus, excitement is building to a fever pitch as the Special Olympics World Games come back to Los Angeles and UCLA after 43 years.
The event begins with a star-studded opening ceremonies at the L.A. Coliseum on July 25 and runs through Aug. 2 at various venues throughout the city.
The Special Olympics World Games will make up the world’s largest sports and humanitarian event this year and the biggest event to hit L.A since the 1984 Olympic Games. Founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968, the Special Olympics games have become a global movement that uses sports to foster acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. At UCLA, staging for the event is underway.
UCLA is one of several venues that will host the 14th summer games, and with that comes an unprecedented level of collaboration and cooperation among campus departments, including those responsible for housing, dining, sports venues, grounds, electrical, information technology, parking, police, fire and medical, to name just a few. The UCLA community is also coming together to lend a hand; nearly 1,000 UCLA staff, faculty, students, alumni and supporters have signed up through the UCLA Volunteer Center to be part of Team UCLA.
“It’s really involving the whole village of UCLA,” said Mick Deluca, assistant vice chancellor of campus life at UCLA. “We’re really going to shine at our best here in the spirit of inclusion and respect,” he said of the event, which has been four years in the making.
The games of 2015
This isn’t the first time UCLA has hosted an international summer Special Olympics competition. The campus was the main venue for the third-ever international event in 1972, which drew 2,500 athletes from the U.S., Canada, France and Puerto Rico. In addition to UCLA, some events were held at Santa Monica College.
At the time, Special Olympics were only four years old; since then the games have grown exponentially. The 2015 games will be held at multiple venues throughout Los Angeles, including downtown, Encino, Griffith Park and Long Beach, UCLA and USC. This year’s games will draw 6,500 athletes and 2,000 coaches from 165 nations, from Kosovo with four delegates to India with 328. Additionally, 30,000 volunteers, 500,000 spectators and 1,500 members of the media will be poised to catch all of the action.
One of UCLA’s roles will be to set up and execute eight of the games’ 25 sporting events and to provide sports equipment, said Rich Mylin, director of recreation sports venues for UCLA Recreation.
Spectators will see volleyball at Pauley Pavilion; rhythmic and artistic gymnastics at the Wooden Center; 11-a-side soccer at Drake Stadium and the North Athletic Field; five-a-side soccer at the Intramural Field; judo at the Student Activities Center; softball at Easton Stadium and tennis at the Los Angeles Tennis Center. Events are free and open to the public. No tickets are required.
Sporting events at UCLA start Saturday at 9 a.m. with 11-a-side soccer at Drake Stadium and the North Athletic Field; five-a-side soccer at the Intramural Field; and tennis at the Los Angeles Tennis Center.
Spectators are encouraged to come early to ensure a seat in the stands. General parking will be available in Structures 4 and 7, as space permits. Short-term parking for up to two hours can be purchased at the Structure 4 pay stations. All-day parking can be purchased for $12 at the Structure 4 kiosk or pay stations and at the Structure 7 entrance. (See map)
“We’ve been working hard to provide an environment for the athletes to do great work,” said Mylin. His team will also be on-call throughout the games to trouble-shoot issues and provide advice and consultation as needed.
“This is a world stage, and we’re here for them throughout the process,” Mylin said. “It’s going to be a great time.”
The biggest challenge, said Mylin, has been coordinating sports schedules, logistics and communications, a task that UCLA Recreation has been working with the world games events team to manage. “We need to make sure that all the venues know what the other venues are doing,” said Mylin, adding that this is especially important because of the close proximity of multiple buildings and fields that will be in use. “Fortunately for us, we have a cohesive team and great communication.”
Welcoming the world
Coverage of the games will be broadcast daily on ESPN, and the Morgan Intercollegiate Athletics Center will a central hub for 1,500 accredited members of the media.
In addition, more than 100 UCLA Health employees will be staffing two clinics to ensure the health and well-being of spectators, the athletes, their coaches and chaperones.
Mylin said the Special Olympics World Games are something he, his staff and their cross-campus partners are all eagerly looking forward to.
“It gives a great flavor of inclusion,” said Mylin. “We want to be that place where people feel comfortable and want to be part of what we do, and this one really adds a whole new dimension to the opportunities that happen on campus.”
Up on the Hill, site of UCLA’s on-campus undergraduate residential community, energy has been building for months as Housing and Hospitality Services (H&HS) staff members turn the Hill into an athletes’ village in anticipation of the arrival of 3,500 athletes and coaches on Friday.
The visitors, who will arrive on 80 buses, will be welcomed by UCLA employees and roughly 100 National Guard cadets who will help them move into 1,500 rooms spread among seven high-rise residence halls. This is the largest group UCLA is hosting this summer, but the H&HS team has handled groups of this size before, said Armando Escóbar, conference sales manager.
For this group, staff has arranged for 24-hour security access to residence halls to ensure privacy and created a prayer space in Covel Commons. They have also worked to ensure that the 111,000 meals that will be served in the village are suitable for all competitors and coaches.
“When you’re working with people from all over the world, dining is a big consideration,” said Escóbar, adding that a variety of kosher, halal, vegetarian and vegan options are all on the menu. “Fortunately for us, our dining team is on top of this. We have a diverse group of students during the academic year too, so the team is well-versed on how to address these needs and concerns.”
Staff will also be delivering bagged breakfasts to those who need to board buses to get to early morning events as far away as Long Beach. “They’ll need to beat L.A. traffic, so we’ll get them on their way early enough,” Escóbar said.
H&HS staff members have also been donning their new Special Olympics jackets for the past several weeks as anticipation mounts. “We’re very excited, and that’s part of the energy on the Hill,” said Jason Walley, assistant director of H&HS conference services unit. “Everybody understands the importance of this event and how special it is to be part of it. There’s going to be this interesting energy that we’ve never experienced before.”