LOS ANGELES — This is where stars are born.
Young athletes roaming around the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the USA City Games June 17 will have something in common with former Morningside High standout and ex-WNBA great Lisa Leslie, NBA champions Michael Cooper and Byron Scott and Olympics icon Florence Griffith-Joyner.
The new and latest version of the original L.A. Watts Summer Olympics, later L.A. Watts Summer Games, is back. It has Billy Frank, co-founder and executive chairman of the USA City Games, excited.
“I actually think that bringing these [games] back … I think the timing is impeccable. I think we need it more than ever,” Frank said. “With the games being down, I think the city … really missed them.”
“So the more I looked into it a couple of years ago when I acquired these, the more I knew these were necessary and needed to come back,” Frank said. “Anytime I time I meet an alumni, anyone who’s ever been touched by the Watts Summer Games, gets get a smile from ear to ear. So I know what it’s going to mean to the city when it comes back full force.
“Right now we’re touching a couple of thousand people. I think it’s going to touch the city in a whole different way.”
What it means in the present is that at least 500 local athletes, from ages 12 to 18, will have a day to compete in sports like soccer, track and field, basketball, volleyball and football. The biggest winners are the athletes.
There are no losers in this year’s version of the USA City Games, so that means the elimination of the gold, silver and bronze medals. By pulling the plug on the medal trifecta, everyone becomes a winner, Frank said.
“This is more of a celebration kickoff to the 50h anniversary [of the Watts Summer Games]. This is what we’re doing. We’re just going to get this back. Everyone’s a winner. Everyone’s a champion,” Frank said.
The first L.A. Watts Summer Games in 1968 at Locke High School were put on as a diplomatic community’s answer to the 1965 L.A. Watts Riots.
The games continued in some shape and form until 2013 when they stopped. Frank decided to revive the Watts Summer Games under a new name, one year before the 50th anniversary of the original Watts Summer Games.
Putting the Games back on again presented Frank with some challenges, mainly in the pocketbook. While he chose not to say how much the one-day event is costing, Frank largely forked over the funds himself to make the event a reality.
Frank said he lucked out and got what he describes as an “angel” investor to help back the USA City Games project.
“Funding was, and is, very difficult,” Frank said. “I funded it for the last year. I’m funding it heavily of late, but then I got an angel who really cares about youth. He’s an angel supporter of youth.”
Corporate dollars have been touch-and-go thus far, but donations are gaining steam, Frank added.
In the last couple of months, it’s been easier for us to get contributions,” he said. “People want to be a part of this. That doesn’t mean we have a plethora of it, but we have enough to help us with some things, things that we needed like some food. Corporations are coming forth now and wanting to be part of this. This is a tough year. It’s like doing a hurdles race, but we’re pulling it off.”
Frank said the USA City Games will not be just a one-day pitstop. His vision for the games is to transform the sports event into a full-fledged program that includes celebrity athletes, Olympians visiting schools and giving pep talks to students and incorporating health, fitness and education into the message.
“In the past, we kind of would go a couple of days and then it kind of goes dormant,” Frank said. “The future plans for the USA City Games, celebrating the Watts Summer Games, it’s going to be bigger and brighter, more legs if you will, more opportunities that touch more kids and what it means to eat right. We’re always going to have an underlying about sports, but you don’t have to be an athlete to eat well, to think well.”
These athletes are the future, said four-time Olympian Rod Dixon, vice president of Youth Development for the USA City Games.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to participate, to compete, to be the best that they can be, and the USA City Games could be the defining moment for every student involved,” Dixon said.