Football Goes Virtual for Big-Game Tradition with Local School
LOS ANGELES – UCLA and USC football student-athletes teamed with 186th Street Elementary School for a virtual "Super Bowl Spirit Day," carrying on a 17-year tradition with the Gardena, Calif. school.
In what former 186th Street principal Marcia Reed called "a recess from the rivalry," Bruins and Trojans alike encouraged children to attend college and continue chasing their dreams.
"UCLA and USC are rivals and they compete hard when it comes to sports, especially in football," said UCLA Director of Student-Athlete Development Ric Coy, who moderated the Zoom gatherings. "But when it comes to supporting the amazing Owls of 186th Street Elementary School, we come together as one team and are no longer rivals."
Six groups of children logged in across the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 5, with each 25-minute meeting comprised predominantly of a question-and-answer session for the football student-athletes. A UCLA Athletics alumna, Marti Reed, also spoke on her college experience. Reed, who suited up for head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez and the Bruin softball team from 2008-2012 and was part of the 2010 NCAA championship team, is a motivational speaker and author. She is also the daughter of Principal Reed, who maintains her role in the planning and execution of the event alongside her successor, Principal Antonio Aguilar, even after retiring in 2018.
Linebacker Shea Pitts, who took part in his fourth "Super Bowl Spirit Day,' was singled out by for his frequent involvement. Homemade signs thanking Pitts were displayed by fourth-graders whose lives he has continued to impact.
"To be someone that they can look up to and tell them to go to school – and make that a point – maybe that can change someone's life, even at a young age," said Pitts. "Each year, I meet new kids, and being able to interact with them and give them advice that helps them develop as people and knowing you're making a difference in their lives [is special]. It's giving them more motivation and determination to go do something."
Previous in-person events have seen the Bruins and Trojans visit classrooms and briefly speak to children and sign autographs while donning their game jerseys. There was also the ability to conduct different football activities, ranging from pass-and-catch opportunities to ladder drills, in years past. While the one-on-one aspect was missed, Pitts said, the virtual setting presented a new way to connect.
"Someone asked 'If you were to give advice to your 10-year-old self, what would that be?'" he recalled. "And that caught me by surprise. We didn't get to do that before when we were in person. We didn't get to have those group discussion questions, being able to talk to all of them at once. Being able to do that on Zoom was nice."