Martin Jarmond saves a seat at March Madness for UCLA’s spirited seniors
Very little about Alicia Beebe’s senior year went right. The courtside seat at Pauley Pavilion for the UCLA spirit squad member was gone during the pandemic. By spring, when the dance team would normally be wrapping up its season, she hadn’t even met all her teammates.
With nothing else to lose, Beebe sent a direct message to Martin Jarmond on Instagram looking for a silver lining.
With the UCLA men’s basketball team playing in an NCAA regional semifinal, could spirit squad seniors still attend games, even if they weren’t cheering courtside?
UCLA’s athletic director was already on the case.
The 11th-seeded Bruins answered the call of UCLA basketball history by charging back to the Final Four with a 51-49 victory over top-seeded Michigan.
“This isn’t just regular students that are not associated with our program,” Jarmond said by phone this week. “They’re at every basketball game. Their last year, they haven’t been able to do any of that. That’s not right. If I can do something that gives them a little bit of that senior experience back, I’m going to do it.”
After the Bruins reached the Sweet 16, Jarmond reserved tickets for seniors involved in UCLA band, cheer or dance. Demand for tickets from UCLA’s limited allotment skyrocketed when the Bruins advanced to their first Final Four since 2008, but Jarmond kept the arrangement in place for seniors to attend this weekend’s games, beginning Saturday against No. 1 seed Gonzaga.
“Us adults, we can always go to another Sweet 16 or a tournament, but we can’t go as a student,” Jarmond said. “That’s a finite amount of time. That’s my North Star on this.”
Even before Beebe’s message, Jarmond was working on how to set aside tickets for spirit squad seniors after having dinner with senior leaders of the Den, UCLA’s student section, in Indianapolis.
Seeing students who paid hundreds of dollars to travel to the tournament for a First Four game during finals week reminded Jarmond of just how meaningful these opportunities were. The Bruins kept winning, and Jarmond approached his staff about how to ensure senior spirit squad members could join.
Although tickets are set aside, the students still must purchase them and pay for their own flights and lodging. It’s not cheap.
Tickets to UCLA’s regional semifinal against second-seeded Alabama were $100 apiece, and watching the Bruins against top-seed Michigan cost $125. The Final Four games cost $200, and a seat at a national championship game involving UCLA is another $200.
But being in the arena to watch UCLA defeat the Crimson Tide in overtime and then upset the Wolverines was priceless.
“These kinds of experiences, while you’re a student, those are once in a lifetime,” said Beebe, who made it to Indianapolis with help from her parents and their accumulated hotel points.
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A three-year dance team member, Beebe attended every basketball and football game before spirit squads were banned during the pandemic-stricken season. Watching athletes compete while not being able to continue her passion is difficult, Beebe said. The dance team hasn’t practiced together all year.
Beebe’s one live show this year came through Zoom before a USC-UCLA men’s basketball game. UCLA seniors were invited by USC to perform the Bruin fight song. Beebe made sure to straighten up her living room for the event.
It was an unceremonious end to a dance career. Beebe, who started dance at 3 years old, will graduate in the spring and apply to medical school.
Wearing a black face mask and blue UCLA dance team T-shirt in the stands, Beebe thanked Jarmond in person for helping give her senior year a positive ending.
“I just can’t thank Martin enough,” Beebe said. “He’s been amazing and it’s great to see him valuing his students and being able to make something come together for us.”
Members of the spirit squad have purchased 31 tickets, according to Jarmond. As the Bruins held on for a tense two-point victory over Michigan, Jarmond felt an electricity in the stands he hadn’t experienced this year.
He credited it to the students.
“When you have overtime games and one-possession games, you need every advantage and every piece of energy you can get,” Jarmond said. “I’m a big believer in energy starts with students so I want to make sure we do what we can to make sure they’re in our venues and that we’re doing the best we can to take care of them.”
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