Saturday, May 25

Center of attention

With Wooden's name came a resource that benefitted all students at UCLA

By Christina Teller

Daily Bruin Contributor

In the late 1970s, UCLA was looking for a way to honor legendary
head basketball coach John Wooden. The school was in dire need of a
recreation facility for students in the heart of campus.

The two were a perfect fit.

So in 1978 the John Wooden Center was proposed and approved by
the students and, in 1983, opened its doors.

Wooden was aware of his role on the campus and in the community.
He loved the student body.

“There are people who are university citizens. They may be
coaches, but they are university citizens,” said John
Sandbrook, former sports editor of the Daily Bruin who covered five
NCAA championships, and who currently is the assistant provost in
the College of Letters and Science. “They understand the
relationship of what they’re doing as coaches of the team for
the betterment of the university.”

Traditionally not a supporter of name-adorned buildings, Wooden
supported the idea of the recreation facility because he recognized
the need for such a place. “I wanted it to be a place for the
student body as a whole, not just for athletics alone,” he

Wooden gave his approval for the recreation center to bear his
name only if it served the community as a whole. The man who spent
50 years with varsity athletes keenly recognized the needs of the
average student.

And the students needed a recreation facility. Before the Wooden
Center was proposed, the recreation facilities on campus were
limited and separated. The Men’s Gym and the Women’s
Gym, now Kaufman Hall, formerly the Dance Building, were the arenas
for student activity. With deteriorating facilities, crumbling
walls and a student survey expressing their wishes, a new facility
was proposed in 1977.

That referendum did not pass due to the fact that the bar was
set at a two-thirds majority. As the measure raked in an
otherwise-high 61 percent of the votes, it did not receive the
two-thirds majority needed.

With a year to mill over the measure, Craig Ehrlich, the 1978
USAC president, exercised his position as a representative of the
students. He made it a personal goal to pass the referendum.

“That was a classic instance of a student body president
really doing something and leaving a legacy,” Sandbrook

The center was scheduled to cost $10.1 million and because the
construction of the center would overtake a metered parking lot, an
underground parking facility was proposed as well, for an
additional $7.4 million.

This time the measure passed, garnering 73 percent of the

Searching for a way to honor the Wizard of Westwood, UCLA had
proposed two options. The first involved renaming the court in
Pauley Pavilion to John Wooden Court. The second was to affix his
name to the new recreation facility.

“What John would appreciate more was having his name
attached to a building that would benefit all students,”
Sandbrook said.

So at Wooden’s 70th birthday party in Pauley Pavilion,
with 500 friends in attendance, the fund-raising campaign

In the end, it earned $4 million to match the four million
generated by student funds.

Behind the backing of Sandbrook, Peter Dalis, director of of the
department of Cultural and Recreational Affairs, Chancellor Charles
Young and Ehrlich, the Wooden Center became a reality. And on May
2, 1983, it opened its doors to the students.

“John ended up being honored by the students and by the
alumni together in one effort,” Sandbrook said. “That
was very meaningful for us as an institution that everyone came
together to honor Coach Wooden.”

The appeal of the 960,000 square foot facility caught on like
wildfire in both the UCLA community and the rest of the University
of California system. Berkeley, Irvine and San Diego all passed
referendums in the subsequent four years to build similar
facilities. USC grabbed ahold of the coattails in 1984, following
former university president Jim Zumberge’s visit to the

“He saw the value of it to this student community and this
campus, and he said that he needed to do the same at USC,”
Sandbrook said. “Within four years, the Lyons Center was
built over there.

“The Wooden center became an overnight success in terms of
student use,” Sandbrook continued. “I knew that it
would be well liked. I didn’t realize the amount of student
use it would get but I think we were all very pleasantly

With more than 600,000 people entering the facility weekly, the
Wooden Center ranks second to Ackerman Student Union in usage. With
70 percent of those admitted being students, it plays a central
role in the life of the UCLA community.

“The center offers an opportunity for students, faculty
and staff and alumni to meet in a situation that isn’t
formal,” Ray Zack, current director of the Department of
Cultural and Recreational Affairs, said. “It’s a great
place for students who may not be involved, and who don’t
live on campus or belong to other organizations, to meet other
people in a casual atmosphere.”

Offering 79 different classes, the Wooden Center catered to the
diversity of the UCLA community. With activities ranging from
guitar lessons to Tae-Bo, students are bound to find an outlet for
their creative desires.

The variety reflects the range of Wooden’s interests. An
English and honors student, as well as stand-out basketball player
at Purdue, Wooden held vested interest in more than athletics.

“I wanted it to include different options like raquetball
courts, a weight room, and not one just for football players and
other athletes, but one for the entire student body,” Wooden

“Recognizing the entire student body is very
important,” he added.

As it has grown since the early ’80s, the Wooden Center
has kept up with the ongoing evolution of the student body.

“We may not be on the cutting edge, but we can see
it,” said Dennis Koehne, assistant manager of the center.

In order to maintain that edge, university officials say
refurbishing the center is essential. This year’s USAC
elections have brought the Student Programs, Activities, and
Resource Complex referendum, proposing, as part of a broader plan,
to expand the Wooden Center at a $28 per quarter fee hike for
students when the center is completed in 2004.

With the inclusion of men’s and women’s locker rooms
and showers, a weight room three times the size of the current one,
and an outdoor recreation facility, proponents said that the
measure will allow the center to further grow with the student

“It brings a sense of community by it’s
location,” Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student and Campus
Affairs Bob Naples said. “It’s right in the heart of

Having just celebrated its 20th anniversary, the Wooden center
is on the pulse of the Bruin community.

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