Race puts USC-UCLA rivalry to good use

UCLA finally got its signature win over rival USC. For the next year, it has bragging rights over its crosstown enemies.

The win won’t count toward its 2012 campaign on the gridiron, though it didn’t even involve the football team. But there were a lot of happy fans in powder blue in Westwood.

Rousing success · In its first year, the “We Run the City” race raised $51,527 for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games. – Photo courtesy of Special Olympics of Southern California

UCLA raised $28,510 and defeated USC in the first annual We Run the City 5k run sponsored by the Special Olympics of Southern California on Sunday at UCLA. The event, which raised $51,527 in total, will be held annually during rivalry week at the university hosting the football game in subsequent years. The money raised helps fund the 2015 Special Olympics World Games, which will be held at USC.

“It’s a great way to actually get the students and fans and supporters to get out there and run and compete athletically,” Special Olympics Southern California President Bill Shumard said. “Their participation will make a difference as to who owns the city.”

Spirit leaders from both schools cheered on more than 1,000 participants at the event. UCLA met three criteria to win: It raised the most money, had more team members than USC and had 100 people cross the finish line before the Trojans.

It was a typical college sports scene in Wilson Plaza Sunday morning: UCLA’s band played the school’s fight song and Joe Bruin helped get fans excited. The USC Song Girls wore their signature sweaters. And, naturally, there was a lack of cheering from USC fans when UCLA’s totals were announced and vice versa.

When it’s rivalry week, it can’t be any other way.

Shumard is no stranger to the USC-UCLA rivalry. He worked in the USC Sports Information Department for three years before eventually becoming athletic director at Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State, his alma mater. He became a member of the Special Olympics Southern California Board of Directors after the organization approached him about holding the Summer Games at Long Beach.

When he took over as president of Special Olympics Southern California in 2005, he wanted to incorporate the competitive spirit of rivalry week into a fundraising event involving the collegiate spirit to which he is so accustomed.

“We want to see that rivalry at its best,” Shumard said. “We want both sides sort of getting after each other leading up to the football game the following Saturday. That’s what rivalry week’s all about.”

And it is certainly true that the crosstown rivalry has a life of its own off the gridiron.

Every year, students at USC wrap up and protect Tommy Trojan from UCLA pranksters who wish to deface the iconic statue. Meanwhile, students in Westwood guard their Bruin statue from USC’s vandalizing tactics. We Run the City is one more way for students to get involved in the heated rivalry, while raising money for a cause at the same time.

“It brings a level of competitiveness,” Shumard said. “There were no two better weeks [at USC] than UCLA week and Notre Dame week.”

But beyond the competitiveness of the runners participating on the day of the race and in the collegiate rivalry itself is something far more important to Shumard and others: the disabled athletes they are raising money for.

“People forget that our athletes can have that level of talent,” Special Olympics Southern California Vice President of Communications and Marketing Kelly Kloepping said.

And she has a valid point.

At the 2011 World Games in Athens, athletes competed in 22 different categories of events, including half marathon, equestrian, bocce and even judo. And as Shumard pointed out, the athletes don’t want to be thought of as different; they take their sports incredibly seriously.

“They do not want you to feel sorry for them,” Shumard said. “And I think people’s first reaction is ‘Oh, those poor people. Isn’t that wonderful?’ They don’t want to hear that. They are competitors at heart.”

Shumard said things even get a little heated among competitors when it comes to the games.

“Our athletes are really no different than anyone else,” Shumard said. “They compete to win. It doesn’t mean that our athletes don’t occasionally trash talk.”

That competitive spirit for the Special Olympics is not limited to the athletes themselves, though. Sunday was as much an indicator as any that participants in We Run the City were as fired up about the race, the cause and the schools they represent as they were about the football game Saturday.

“I think when you put two groups of people that want to be the best together, with this kind of history, you have to be involved,” race participant Tony Hobley said. Hobley is the managing director for RAPP Marketing Agency Network’s Los Angeles branch. His office had two teams: one for the Trojans and one for the Bruins. He raced for USC, and things got a little heated in the workplace and during the race itself.

“You could feel the passion when we were out here on the course, everybody sort of giving each other a little bit of ‘you know what,’” Hoble said. “But it’s great. I think this is the start of something huge that everyone’s going to want to be involved in.”

Another member in RAPP’s office, Milton Weaver, was racing on behalf of his Bruins. He was a key instigator in the office rivalry.

“It was very fun, because I initiated the rivalry email in the office,” Weaver said. “We had two teams … and [UCLA was] winning by about $200, and I put out an email [saying], ‘I would be embarrassed if I went to ’SC.’ And then ’SC’s jumped up by $300 and then we came back and we ended up winning. But it’s all for a good cause.”

Though in its inaugural year, Kloepping hopes that the competitive juices that flow in Trojans and Bruins will lead to better events down the road.

“All over the board, we have students from the two schools offering support,” Kloepping said. “Our hopes are that this is going to get better every year.”

And though the Bruins ultimately won the day, it didn’t really matter. What mattered was that the schools had come together for a common goal.

“The concept of the rivalry I think is perfect,” Weaver said. “It’s a positive ending to a good, fun little rivalry that doesn’t turn into violence. It doesn’t turn into real negative energy. It’s about putting that rivalry energy to a good cause.”