Great Reception, with two bars — UCLA Spirit Sprints forward, as the upwardly-Mobile squadmembers connect with fans who drop thousands in support at the annual Bruin Cheerleader Reception and Silent Auction
Set it on vibrate.
The James West UCLA Alumni Center was full of good vibrations on Sunday, as the UCLA Spirit Squad held their annual All-Access Reception there, to raise much-needed operating funds. The event was, of course, an unqualified success, as droves of fans and supporters flooded the building — and the de facto collection plate. I say “of course,” because when you’ve got someone like Mollie Vehling in charge, the concept of failure never even enters into the picture. Mollie has been the Executive Director of the UCLA Spirit Squad for 12 years now, and every thing she touches turns to (blue &) gold. There is a REASON that the Bruins have the BEST Spirit Squad in the Country.
Mollie knows how to run the best selection/audition process, how to train and motivate, and how to protect her girls from Internet scum and stalkers, because she knows how to surround herself with expert support, including choreography, fitness, make-up, and even Dental professionals, not to mention law enforcement. And lets not forget fundraising, which is what Sunday was all about.
Even while dealing with 4 kids and other personal obstacles, Mollie always does things the right way, including fundraisers. Have you ever been to a really nice Italian restaurant like Valentino in Santa Monica? You know how the Owner (or Maitre de) makes you feel welcome, like you’re a member of the family? That’s how Mollie was greeting everyone at the door of the West Center. Guests should have been feeling privileged just to be a part of the festivities, but Mollie treated them like they were doing her a huge favor just by attending.
After the warm welcome from Mollie, the next people you deal with are the students (squadmembers) selling the tickets and giving out the name tags. Just like at Valentino, these disciples of Mollie are nice, well-mannered, friendly, and appreciative of your patronage! It’s PARTLY good training by Mollie and her staff, but it’s also just the inherent pleasantness of these kids. Like I said, Mollie has the selection process perfected, to the point where she not only signs on the most attractive students in the Nation, but also the smartest and the nicest. They don’t act like they are following training — On the contrary, they are being themselves, and the sweetness just comes naturally.
After all the greetings, it’s on to… the OPEN Bar. Wine and Beer on the house, and it’s not lousy 7-11 wine. Think “Mondavi.” CLASS, all the way. Great service of course, but you can’t even tip the bartenders, because they are actually Alumni Association members donating their time. They suggested that I take my offered tip, and spend it on drawing tickets.
But before I can even get to the packages being offered as prizes for the drawings, I find roving waiters (Yell Squad guys, I think) with gourmet hors d’oeuvres. And I’m not talking cocktail weenies. There were Spago-like gourmet pizza squares with a SWEET topping mixed with a gorgonzola-type cheese, there were little mini-french roll sandwiches with pork and cabbage, there were fritter-like balls filled with spicy macaroni and cheese, there were chicken sausage treats, and one more fancy item served in a shot glass, that might have been some sort of seafood cocktail concoction, that I didn’t get to try (my fault — I was in good conversation, or already eating something, when those trays came around).
Speaking of good conversation, the Spirit Squad was outgoing and friendly, engaging me in conversation numerous times, even though I’m surprisingly shy in these situations. Thanks go out to Kali, Maya, and Alicia of the Yell Squad, just to mention three people who made the social event easier for me.
But the best two conversations I had were with PLAYERS from the Bruin Football Team. Lots of STAR Players were in attendance, including Kevin Prince, Richard Brehaut, Malcolm Jones, Derrick Coleman, Jordan Zumwalt, Sean Westgate, Jonathan Franklin, and Jeff Locke, and it was those last two who took the time to talk to me.
Jonathan Franklin was as engaging as could be. He was NOT just going through the motions — He really participated in the conversation, offering candid opinions and sharing personal info. Did you know that his Dad is a big TROJAN??? And Dad was NOT happy when Jonathan spurned sc for Westwood. If you’ve ever wondered who the guy is at practice in the USC cap, that’s Jonathan’s Dad! Of course I asked JF how his Dad felt about the SANCTIONS… He said that his Dad was upset about them, to which I replied: “GOOD!”
Jonathan really understands the rivalry. He is local, having graduated from Dorsey, so even if his Dad WEREN’T a trojan, he would still be hip to it. I asked him if he understood how important the rivalry is to a lot of the older fans, and he assured me that he and the team are aware of how we feel. I asked him if the East Coast players share the contempt for sc, and he said that they learn fast.
Throughout the conversation, you could tell that Jonathan was not the dumb jock type. He GOT THE JOKES, and we even discussed the importance that he places on academics. All this led me to THANK him for choosing UCLA over his Dad’s evil alma mater, and tell him how lucky we were to get him. He was so cool, down-to-earth, and NON-arrogant, that I felt comfortable enough to tell him about some of the great photos I have taken of him, and later even went back up to him to show him one that I had located on my Blackberry (via my web site) — And he loved it.
Speaking of Bruins with Brains, I later got an opportunity to talk to Punter/Holder Jeff Locke. Jeff majors in ECONOMICS, and actually came to UCLA having passed AP Math (Calculus). Jeff plans on becoming a Financial Advisor after a couple more seasons kicking for the Bruins. I thought that Jeff was battling Kip Smith for Field Goal kicking duties this year, but Jeff is actually recuperating from an injury, and will concentrate only on Punting, Holding, and Kick-offs, leaving all Field Goals, even long ones, to Smith. Of course, if Smith gets injured, Locke will be ready to step in on FG’s. We also talked about his throwing and running ability in case a fake punt is called, and we talked about his tackling ability, in case the Bruin punt coverage breaks down. Jeff was very humble, and says that he plans on Kicking Off a lot more than he punts this year, and that he is truly looking forward to the season.
After enjoying those two conversations, I got a chance to look at the raffle prizes and Silent Auction items. There were thrice as many prizes as last year, including Rooms at the Beverly Hills Hilton, and Tickets to Sea World, Cirque Du Soleil, Dodgers, Angels, and Bruin Football games. There were also Date Night packages, Fitness Classes, Dance Lessons, In-N-Out gift certificates, Nike Polo shirts, Bruin snuggies and other merchandise, jerseys, etc. There really was something for everyone, including kids, and babies too. There were even opportunities to have Cheerleaders come BABY-SIT for you (or your kids, I guess), or perform at YOUR tailgate party.
The Silent Auction was also well-stocked with items that I consider PRICELESS, including a basketball signed by John Wooden. In addition, they had some “A Dinner with Cheerleaders” packages, opportunities to BE Joe or Josie Bruin at a game, chances to lead an 8-clap at a Basketball game, a football autographed by the San Diego Chargers, another one autographed by Rick Neuheisel and his staff, a basketball signed by Tyus Edney, another one by Matt Barnes, and an autographed photo of Andrew Bynum. There were also hotel stays complete with mani-pedi’s WITH Cheeleaders. There were massages, chances to see a Day in the Life of a Bruin Cheerleader, with a VIP, game-day experience, and even a chance to be a guest judge at the upcoming Cheerleader Auditions!!!
But by far the best and most unique articles of the auction were: An actual piece of Nell & John Wooden Court, as well as a seat and a bench back from original Pauley Pavilion!!! The athletic Department surprised Mollie with these fantastic donations just two days earlier, and I didn’t see the final bids, but I’m sure they brought in plenty.
After I perused all these exciting items and entered the drawing several times, it was time for the Cheer performance, and the speakers. The Spirit Squad did two routines (see photos below), and then both Rick Neuheisel and Ben Howland took their turns at the podium, charismatically praising the year-round, hard work of the Spirit Squad. They both talked about how the Cheerleaders are the Face of UCLA. Howland commented how the TV Networks are ALL OVER the Bruin Cheerleaders, especially in the Tournament, and that the Girls get almost as much TV air time as the players do.
Both Coaches kept their talks on Cheerleaders, and didn’t stray into any talk about their players or teams, or their outlooks for the upcoming years. Neuheisel DID mention how he appreciates the financial support given to the Spirit Squad, so that they can go on the road and help the players out, like they did at Texas. Then he said that he mentioned Texas, because that was the only Road Game that they won. That comment brought the biggest crowd chuckle of the night.
Say what you will about the state of Bruin Athletics, but you can’t deny that both Coaches bleed Blue and Gold, and would do anything within the rules to help the Bruins win. And I believe that they were both sincere in their adulation of the Spirit Squad, and in thier appreciation of what it means to have superior Cheerleading.
After the Coaches finished, the drawing was held, and the Silent Auction winners were announced. I didn’t win anything, while Cheer family members, Mollie’s relatives, and the big $$$ benefactors cleaned up, many winning multiple items. If I didn’t trust Mollie implicitly, I’d swear “the fix is in!” ;). Alumni Cheerleader Geof Strand also won several prizes, including the chance to wear the Joe Bruin costume at a game… So when you see Joe do the “Every man, woman, and child” routine next year, you’ll know why. And I’m not “mad” at Geof for winning — I’m full of admiration, because he put out a lot of money for those auction wins.
Apparently, some of Geof’s money will go to the best cause of all: New Cheer Uni’s for the re-opening of Pauley. Now that’s a “fitting” tribute.
So, to summarize, a great time was had by all — The Cheerleaders looked phenomenal, they AND the players were gracious, the food and wine was top-notch, and lots of money was raised. Everything went smoothly, and everyone stayed until the very end of the event. In other words, TOTAL SUCCESS.
[On a personal note, I want to wish Kali a speedy recovery from the injury that precluded her from performing on Sunday, and I want to give a special shout out to Nikki of the Dance Team, who was unable to attend due to a pressing “obligacion personal.” I missed Nikki very much, but still had a fantastic time, thanks to the kindness of all of her teammates. And speaking of kindness, I heard a rumor that one of my all-time favorite Cheer Squad members is NOT returning next year. Apparently, her major is a brutal one — something scientific and hardcore — so she is going to concentrate all her efforts on that. While I WISH she would reconsider, I want to wish her — and her very-nice Mom — all the best of luck in the future, and I want to thank them for being so nice for all this time.]
Now, before I post the photos, I have one other quick, UNRELATED rant I need to unleash. I’m not a Golf fan by any means, but The Masters was very exciting on Sunday, and I had to miss the climax to go to the Reception. When I got home, I was counting on Fred Roggin on the Channel 4 News to show me what I missed. But when Fred showed his highlights, they put an advertising graphic on the screen, and the graphic completely BLOCKED OUT all three crucial putts by the eventual winner. You couldn’t see the freaking hole, because of the dumb ad!!!! WTF!!!! How could they be so stupid? Don’t they watch their own highlights before they show them on the air? And that wasn’t the only annoying part of Roggin’s report. During his recap of the Laker game, he showed them execute a nice “Give and Go” play, but he called it a “Backdoor” play. NOTE TO ROGGIN: A Give n Go is NOT the same as a Backdoor play, and a Sports Anchor — and his copywriters –should know that. IF ONLY MOLLIE WERE IN CHARGE OF EVERYTHING, I wouldn’t be surrounded by ineptitude!!
Okay. Now here are 33 photos from the Reception, including Dance Team, Cheer Squad, both Head Coaches, the auctioned piece of Wooden Court and other items, and even a couple of shots of Mollie. Simply stunning, how great she looks, after 4 kids, and with all the stress she deals with. She looks better now than she did when I met her, many years ago. Fast Metabolism, Genius Nutritionist, Fountain of Youth? I don’t know her secret, but I’m glad that her knack for health and beauty carries over to the Spirit Squad.