As regular readers might recall, I’m UCLA alum. UCLA was in my DNA as, in 1929, my mother and father were in the first class on the Westwood campus. (Moving from Vermont Avenue where L.A. City College is today.) The “new” campus consisted of only four buildings including Royce and Haines Halls. Today the campus is so sprawling it’s like a small city. Actually, not so small.
The list of influential Bruin alums is seemingly endless. It includes the late Ralph Bunche who grew up in S. Central. He went on to become a high-ranking U.S. diplomat and, in 1950, won the Nobel Peace Prize, the first African-American to do so.
Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color line in 1947, was also a Bruin. As were Decathlon Gold Medalist Rafer Johnson; tennis legend, author, civil rights and AIDS activist the late Arthur Ashe; the NBA’s all-time scoring leader, author, historian and documentarian, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; and the late Tom Bradley, Mayor of Los Angeles for five terms!
As an aspiring sports reporter, I was also proud of the Bruins’ accomplishments on the athletic field. UCLA holds the NCAA record for team championships with 111. Every time I look up at the 11 NCAA basketball championship banners hanging proudly from the rafters at Pauley Pavilion it’s an awe-inspiring sight.
In the world of charitable events, Bruins everywhere can be proud of the UCLA sponsored “Dribble for the Cure.” It benefits Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation and is this Sunday, October 26, on the UCLA Campus. And there’s a Santa Monica connection.
Firstly, from the early 60’s to the early 70’s, the Bruins legendary basketball coach, the late John Wooden, and his family lived here! They resided in a second-story apartment on 14th between Wilshire and San Vincente and attended the First Christian Church on Arizona.
In addition, in the off-season, Coach Wooden worked for a time at Edgemar Farms on Main Street where the theater is now. Two decades before, as a teenager, my father worked at Edgemar as an egg-candler. In fact a few years ago I wrote about it, “Which Came First the Theatre or the Egg?”
I gleaned the precious Wooden details from Eddie Sheldrake who played on the coach’s first three teams (1949-1951). Colorful and outspoken, for a quarter of a century Eddie owned Polly’s Pies on Wilshire, which closed in 2004 due to rising rents. (That’s a too familiar Santa Monica lament.)
Along with Bank of America, Whole Foods, Nestle and many others, Polly’s Inc., a family business, which owns 16 Polly’s and 14 KFC’s, is a major sponsor of “Dribble For the Cure.” And, as a basketball player, in 2000 Eddie was inducted into the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame in ‘2000.
Pun intended (he was an All-American guard) the “driving force” behind “Dribble For the Cure” is John Vallely, another UCLA HOF b’baller. Raised in Balboa, John was All-State at Orange Coast J.C. before transferring to UCLA where he was on two UCLA championship teams, ’69 and ‘70.
Nicknamed “Money Man” for his deadly outside touch, in the 1969 NCAA Semi-Final against Drake John saved the day with 29 points and the Bruins barely squeaked by, 85-82. The next night UCLA won their 5th championship and would win 10 in 12 years under Coach Wooden. (No, that’s not a typo.)
Sadly, John and his wife Karen came to “Dribble” from an unimaginable tragedy. In 1991 the two lost their 12-year-old daughter, Erin, to cancer. In 2003 John was himself diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma but remarkably won his battle with a stem-cell match from a winemaker in Germany. After a two-year waiting period John was able to meet his life-saving donor.
Seven years ago John presented the “Dribble” concept to UCLA and it’s been an uplifting Bruin tradition ever since. With the help of 4,000 participants they’ve raised over $700,000. The fun-filled day starts at 8:30 A.M. at Ducky Drake Stadium with entertainment and food. At 10 A.M. “Dribble for the Cure VII” begins.
Each participant brings his/her own basketball (or buys one on site) for the 1.2 mile dribble course through the UCLA campus. “Dribblers” will meet and take photos with head coaches Steve Alford and Cori Close and their respective UCLA men’s and women’s basketball teams and student-athletes from other Bruin sports.
Participants will be asked to collect pledges for their “dribble” and will be eligible for prizes. They’ll also receive a very cool Dribble t-shirt and goodie bag.
“Dribble For the Cure” is one of the many reasons I’m proud to be a Bruin. All I can say is, if you’ve ever wanted to put a smile on the face of a child bravely battling cancer, this is your chance.
(To learn more go to www.dribbleforthecure.com. If he’s not too busy practicing dribbling, Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)