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Sports-themed First Thursdays event underscores successful 1st year

UCLA and Westwood celebrated UCLA athletes in this month’s First Thursdays block party, which included a booth for Dunk MS, an annual fundraiser for multiple sclerosis research. (Sofia McMaster/Daily Bruin)

By Sharla Steinman and Gabrielle Siegel

March 7, 2023 2:47 p.m.

This post was updated March 7 at 10:19 p.m.

Hundreds of Bruins and Westwood community members gathered on Broxton Avenue to celebrate UCLA athletes for this month’s First Thursdays block party.

Launched in March 2022, First Thursdays is a joint effort between UCLA and the Westwood Village Improvement Association to build community bonds between students and the neighborhood. The monthly event started at noon with the Westwood Village Farmers’ Market and a CPR training event in honor of American Red Cross Month. The event transformed into “Game On,” a sports-themed block party at 7 p.m. inviting Bruins into Westwood Village for a celebration of the university’s athletic accomplishments.

Mary Osako, vice chancellor for strategic communications, said she considers First Thursdays to be one of UCLA’s love letters to LA and a fundamental part of Westwood’s revival after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The evening featured tailgate-style games, such as cornhole and Bruin pong, as well as local performers and a livestream of the UCLA men’s basketball game versus Arizona State in Pauley Pavilion.

Audrey Freeman, a third-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student attending the event, said she was most excited for the bungee trampoline jumping station where students could learn how to flip like gymnasts.

Attendees also saw performances from the volunteer cheerleading organization Cheer LA, the Top Shelf Brass Band and the student-led UCLA Golden Twirlers.

First Thursdays additionally honored UCLA women’s soccer players during the event for their December NCAA championship victory with an announcement by the event’s master of ceremonies. Members of the women’s soccer team were also in attendance to join the festivities and celebrate with their fellow Bruins.

[Related: UCLA women’s soccer conquers North Carolina for national championship No. 120]

Faith Nguyen, a goalkeeper on the women’s soccer team and a second-year physiological science student, said interacting with the Westwood community helps connect the team to its fanbase.

“We can’t do what we do without fans,” Nguyen said. “I think having an opportunity to be out front and up close and interact with these individuals … is a great experience.”

Booths for celebrating the championship included a school spirit face-painting booth and a game where community members, alongside UCLA women’s soccer players, could try to kick soccer balls at darts to win prizes.

The block party also hosted partner booths along Broxton Avenue, including Dunk MS, LA28 – the organization working toward the 2028 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games– UCLA Competitive Sports and Zapshot, a social media startup geared toward students.

Blake Arnet, a former UCLA basketball player and founder of Dunk MS, an annual fundraiser for multiple sclerosis research, said the First Thursdays booth hoped to help involve UCLA students in the effort to raise awareness and funds for the condition.

He said the event, which features a professional dunk showcase, will return to the John Wooden Center in May.

“When UCLA marketing reached out to me, it was a no-brainer to show up,” Arnet said.

LA28’s appearance celebrated the upcoming 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will be held in LA. Westwood has been preparing for the Olympics’ return to LA, as the athletes’ village will be hosted at UCLA’s dorms and university apartments.

“We’re hoping to get more excitement for the Games,” said Corine Taylor, LA28 community relations manager.

LA28 and UCLA Adaptive Recreation hosted wheelchair basketball, where community members attempted to shoot baskets.

Osako said the First Thursdays event series has been successful during its first year, welcoming more than 35,000 people to Westwood in total and doubling foot traffic for local businesses in Westwood Village.

“We cannot be prouder,” Osako said. “UCLA is here to support the Westwood Village small businesses and to really elevate them.”

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