14 Clubs Got $218,575 From Torch Relay : Olympic Dollars Bolster Area Sports

Times Staff Writer,

Patrick Williams’ days as the mascot for the girls’ gymnastics team are almost over.

A year ago, both 10-year-old Patrick and his sister, Jennifer, 13, began gymnastics lessons at the West Valley YMCA after watching the Olympics on television. But, whereas Jennifer joined the girls’ gymnastics team and began competing, Patrick stayed home because the West Valley YMCA did not have a boys’ team.

That is about to change, however. Using money received from the Olympic Torch Relay Project of 1984, the West Valley YMCA is expanding its gymnastics program by 30% and will establish a boys’ team.

“Now we’ve got a bunch of neat mats, rings and everything,” Patrick said. “Now I’ll be able to do a lot more gymnastics.”


The YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the Special Olympics with branches in the San Fernando Valley area received more than $200,000 from the torch relay. The relay involved about 3,500 runners nationwide who carried the Olympic torch in an 82-day trek across the country, ending at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The effort raised $10.9 million that was designated for youth sports programs.

Now, more than a year after $218,575 was distributed to 14 chapters or clubs of organizations in the San Fernando, Santa Clarita, Simi and Conejo valleys, the money is being put to use.

The West Valley YMCA, which received $45,600, already has used part of the money to improve its gymnastics and swimming program and plans to use the rest over the next five years. Executive Director Jan-Charles Leavitt said he hopes to start a bicycling program and indoor soccer program soon.

The amount of money each of the local branches received depended on the number of runners who designated that organization to receive the $3,000 paid on behalf of each person who carried the torch for one kilometer.

The Burbank YMCA received $55,321--the largest amount received by a single organization’s branch--which it has already begun spending on an education program that teaches younger children about their body movements, said Associate General Director Dave Powell. Without the money, the program would not have started for several years, he said. The YMCA was so grateful for the funds that it made a videotape of the relay and gave a copy to each torch runner, Powell said.

Most of the money paid for mats, padded equipment and two part-time instructors. Plans are also under way to increase the YMCA’s sports camp program.


In Ventura County, the money from the torch relay project allowed Special Olympians to carry a torch of its own at a track-and-field event in April, 1985, at Ventura High School. A caldron to hold the flame that burned during that event was purchased with part of the $9,000 received, the organization’s biggest single donation to date, said Karen Arias, area director of the Ventura County Special Olympics.

“We would not have even considered this without the torch money. It was an incredible boost,” she said. The money will also be spent on expanding the equestrian program and defraying the cost of transporting athletes to and from competitions.

Rebuilt Swimming Team

Torch relay funds allowed the East Valley YMCA to rebuild its swimming team, win first place in the YMCA division of the USA League for Southern California and qualify three swimmers for a national YMCA competition, said Gordon Imlay, executive director of the East Valley YMCA.

“We had a team in the past, but it was the torch money that let us spend money on the swim team again,” which included hiring a new coach, Imlay said. He also said the $9,100 his branch received helped it keep up with the YMCA’s nationwide emphasis on teen-age sports.

“The desire was there to reach out to teen-agers, but it was the torch money that got us moving that direction,” he said.

Joel Fishman, former director of the Olympic Torch Relay Project, said the money was intended to help “programs not really designed for premier athletes, but to allow anybody who wanted to participate in sports to do so.” Organizations specializing in that kind of youth sports programs were chosen as beneficiaries.


Added John Black of the Boys Clubs of America: “We are not in the business of creating Olympians. That is not our mission. Our mission is to give kids a good healthy sports experience.”

Before the individual branches received the money, both the Boys and Girls clubs as well as the Special Olympics were required to give half the money to their national offices. Local YMCAs were required to give 10% to the the main Los Angeles office and 10% to the national office.

The Boys and Girls clubs of the San Fernando Valley, Camarillo, Simi Valley, Ventura and Newhall received a total of $40,775, Black said.

The Tri Valley Special Olympics, which includes all of the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys and extends to the Ventura County border, received $28,500.

Other area recipients include: Mid Valley YMCA in Van Nuys, $10,008; North Valley YMCA in Mission Hills, $3,240; North Valley YWCA in San Fernando, $4,500, and Southeast Ventura YMCA in Thousand Oaks, $12,531.