October 10, 2016 - From the October, 2016 issue

Renata Simril’s Presidency of LA84 Builds and Expands Upon a Great Legacy

As Los Angeles bids for the 2024 Summer Olympics, a stellar legacy of Los Angeles’ 1984 Olympic Games, the LA84 Foundation, continues to play a vital role in supporting youth sports in the Southern California region. President and CEO Renata Simril joins TPR in advance of the LA84 Foundation’s fifth annual summit. Hosted by ESPN’s Sage Steele, the summit is titled Playing Forward: The Present and Future of Youth Sports, and will examine ways to provide an opportunity for every child to participate in sports. Simril, who previously worked for the Mayor’s Office, the publisher of the L.A. Times, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, shares her vision for the future of Los Angeles youth sports and the catalyzing impact of the LA 2024 bid. 


Renata Simril

"We’re a beneficiary of the legacy of the 1984 Olympic Games…. With LA84, my goal is to harness the love that this city has of sports and drive it toward positive change in our communities." - Renata Simril, President and CEO of LA84 Foundation

Renata, your professional and civic life in LA—including with the Dodgers, the L.A. Times, the LA CRA, as Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles, and more—have given you an insiders perspective on Los Angeles’ potential and challenges. How does the platform of LA84 compliment and enhance your view of Los Angeles going forward?

Los Angeles is a study in contrasts; known throughout the world as a center of wealth, entertainment, sports and glamour, but the region's successes do not include all residents.

My career has spanned politics, the non-profit space, publishing, sports, and real estate. Quite diverse indeed but the through line, or arc, of my career has really been about leadership and service.

At each opportunity I’ve been given—which have been amazing blessings—I’ve tried to focus on the impact of the work and to leave the place a little better than I found it. My platform here at LA84 really brings my career thus far to a pinnacle.

It’s a culmination of 23+ years of experience and civic life here in Los Angeles at a time and in a space where we can drive tremendous change and impact through sport.

The Southern California region is the sport capital of the world. We’ve got nine professional sports teams and numerous Division 1 college programs. I want  to harness the love that this region has of sports and drive it toward positive change in the  communities most in need.

What about the LA84 legacy motivated you to assume its leadership? 

It was the opportunity to build upon the great work of my predecessor Anita DeFrantz with the focus and ability to support and impact underserved youth and their communities in such meaningful—ways through sport.  To expand upon an earlier point; sport has the power to engage and inspire; to strive to be our best selves.  It is an arena where we can elevate the human spirit and bring hope for a better world, especially through children.

The work we do to support school-based and community sports programs, coaches training, building and renovating fields of play and our research and evaluation is not simply sport for sport’s sake. It’s to transform lives through sport. It’s to engage kids with positive role models. It’s to give kids a sense of their self-worth, their self-identity, and their self-confidence. It’s to teach life skills. It’s to turn athletes into citizens who are well-prepared to face the immense challenges of life, whether on or off the field.

I’ve truly have the best job in America; I get to talk about sports all day long and how it can help kids have fun and realize their dreams along the way.

You’ve said, “We [at LA84] are involved with the LA24 bid. LA24 plus LA84 equals legacy squared.” Elaborate on that.

We’re the legacy of the 1984 Olympic Games. Through the wise guidance and intentionality of strong civic leadership producing the games, it was predetermined that any surplus would be used to support and fund youth sports. The surplus came to us (or the Amateur Athletic Foundation as we were formally known), and that surplus has provided the resources which has enabled our impact throughout the Southern California region and which continues to provide the resources to supports our work today.

I think it is a bit imprudent to talk about whether we will or will not have a surplus given we are still working to earn the right to host the 2024 summer games. However, the light right now is focused on LA’s sport and Olympic history and how a major sporting event can leave a lasting and sustaining legacy. We are using this opportunity to highlight and expand our work; our legacy.

Should we be fortunate enough to host the games once again, we certainly stand ready to further build upon our work and to hopefully scale a number of projects and initiatives we are currently contemplating. While we are helping where we can and supporting the bid effort, we are very much focused on our work and impact which will continue regardless of the vote next September in Lima, Peru.

How does LA84’s motto, “Life-ready through sport,” relate to your ambitions for the organization's ongoing programs?

I’d venture to say that a significant portion of your reader base has engaged in sport at some time in their lives either recreationally or competitively. I certainly engaged in sports in middle school—at that awkward time when puberty is setting in, and, especially as a girl, where we experience a lot of emotions and self-confidence issues.

Through engagement with a positive coach mentor and the dynamics of a team environment, sport provides an opportunity to find out what you’re good at. It helps to build skills like perseverance, grit, determination, hard work, and conflict resolution. Those are skills that make you life-ready.

When you win, how do you win with grace? When you lose, how do you weather defeat and begin again? Sport skills are analogous to skills that are pertinent to life, whether or not you’re a competitive or professional athlete.

We also recently conducted research and evaluation on a middle-school sports program partnership we have with LAUSD’s Beyond the Bell unit to help address the youth sports participation decline where national statistics show begin at around age 12. Our research, conducted by the Claremont Evaluation Center shows that kids who participated in our sports programs (many of whom were engaged in multiple sports) had better GPAs and eight grade algebra marks. We were also surprised to learn that program participants who spoke Spanish transitioned to English language instruction as a faster rate than non-participants.

The sport rubric, as I said, can transform lives. That’s why sport in the communities we serve is a must-have, not a nice-to-have.

Since the 1984 Olympics, LA84 has made grants to youth sports organizations throughout metropolitan Los Angeles. Who has received these grants? What success has been achieved?

We started with $93 million, which has since grown to a $160-million endowment. Since that time, we’ve invested more than $225 million into the Southern California region.

Our work has impacted 3 million kids. We’ve supported 2,200 non-profit partners and trained 75,000 coaches. We’ve helped to fund infrastructure projects and fields of play, like the John C. Argue Swim Stadium renovation, the Pasadena Aquatic Center, and the youth soccer fields at Ferraro Field. With the Dodgers, we’ve help to support the refurbishment of 48 “Dreamfields” in inner-city communities at both the county and the city level.

Our grants have had a significant impact, not just in supporting programs, but also in making sure kids have access to positive coach mentors and fields of play in safe environments.

How do you plan to build on that successful record going forward? 

I think in two ways. One, to shift our work from primarily an output-based measure to a more outcomes-based measure with a focus on tracking and evaluating the actual impact we have on the lives of the youth we serve. Second, to throw open our doors to foundations, sports teams; leagues, athletes, or individuals who believe in and embrace the power of sport, and say, “If you want to leave a lasting and positive impact on youth in Southern California and beyond, come partner with us to drive collective impact.”

We’ve got 32 years of expertise, best practices, and goodwill built with 2,200 organizations and counting. We want to leverage and expand our impact to double, triple the numbers of kids, families and communities we serve and whose lives we help make better. 

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This year, you published a paper called "Sitting is the New Smoking in Youth Sports." Share the findings of that report, and what other issues you intend to address as president of LA84.

There are two things that we want our work to be known for going forward. The first is that we work to level the playing field to provide an opportunity for every child—regardless of background, circumstance, economic upbringing, or color of their skin or ability—to experience the transformative power of sport.

The second is that we work to elevate the field of youth sports. “Sitting is the New Smoking” was our response to a Washington Post piece about why kids drop out of sport. It was our reflection on best practices from our experienced over the last 30 years, which we wanted to share on a national platform to hopefully guide folks to better outcomes as they engage the youth that they serve.

In the piece, we shared that in our experience, one big reason kids drop out of sport is it’s not fun which can be directly tied to not having a positive coach mentor with the skills to keep kids engaged in practice. When kids are sitting around, say on a baseball team or at soccer practice, waiting for a skills and drills, they’re not getting the health benefits or engaging in team activities. Their sitting and not having fun so what’s the point. We highlight in the article simple and practical tips to better engage kids during practices.  

How does LA84’s vision and platform relate to, incorporate, or build upon what public schools and non-profits are doing in the field of youth sports?

I think we connect by being a collaborator and convener.

While we have a tremendous history, research database, information, best practices and practical on-the-ground experience, we don’t know it all. We want to be a space where all organizations that serve youth and help them become their best selves can convene and find out what we each do best, to share that information and work.

What is best thing that the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA, Big Brothers and Sisters, school districts, and even foundation and organizations in other states or countries are doing that’s driving the outcomes that we all desire? How can we collaborate through collective impact—in terms of time, talent, and resources—to maximize the impact we have on the kids that we serve?

LA84 Hosts 500 Young Athletes for Olympic Day 2016 at LA Coliseum

Some have analogized what could be done with sports by looking at what’s been done in music, in places like Venezuela. Are there lessons to be learned from other countries and disciplines working with youth that inform LA84’s goals and initiatives for youth wishing to escape crippling poverty and lack of opportunity? 

Absolutely—particularly from, for example, the programs that Gustavo Dudamel does with YOLA, or that Raul Salinas is doing with Nightingale Middle School Esperanza Azteca. Music like sports is a universal language. They both transcend geography, language, economic standing, ethnicity or gender. They both connect and engage us emotional.  Sport and music is an arena that brings community together and elevates the human spirt.

We often work in urban communities that are, in many cases, ridden with economic challenges, inequities, crime, lack of safety, and working-class parents who struggle to provide the best for their children. A lot of kids don’t see a path out of that.

Nelson Mandela said, “Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” That blanket covers everyone from soccer legend Didier Drogba, who amazingly halted a civil war in his native Ivory Coast; to humanitarians who send soccer balls to Syria to try to provide the smallest measure of optimism and momentary joy where there is otherwise reason only for horror; to our work at the LA84 to fund programs like the GRYD’s Summer Night Lights program, which works to strengthen youth/young adult, family and community resilience; to the influence of games by fostering collaborations through sports

For kids who can’t afford the musical equipment or the sports equipment or have adequate fields of play, if organizations can provide help in these arena it provides the opportunity for kids to have fun, to experience, to learn, and to grow—and, hopefully, to find something that they’re interested in and that they’re good at. When we engage youth through sports, music or positive activities it can proivde a path out of their particular circumstance.

If they never have that opportunity, they’re left to covet what they see—and some alternatives may not be the best. Sport and music provide hope that perhaps tomorrow will be better.

You wrote a piece entitled "More than Black Girl Magic" from your observations of the Rio Olympic Games. Share those observations with us.

Again, it’s in the vein of elevating the field. It was an opportunity for me to reflect, as an African-American woman and as the leader of a youth sports organization my reflections on the Rio Olympic Games. While we have experienced tremendous gains since Title IX, leveling the field for girls and women still remains a challenge. It is an area that LA84 has worked and will continue to elevate our voice and our work.

There were a lot of news stories about the performance of African-American women in the Olympic Games, which was nothing short of extraordinary. African-American female athletes won 15 gold medals—that would be sixth in the nation totals.

However, I wanted to shine a bigger light on the successes of women, in a collective sense, from the US. It was the second consecutive Olympics in which women won the most US medals. So I wanted to expand the celebration from just African-American women to women as a whole—but I also wanted to highlight the work that we still have to do.

In the piece, I say that we have to talk more about #browngirlsmatter. While there was some representation of our Latina sisters in the Games, it’s reflected in the work LA84 does all the way to the collegiate and Olympic level that there are not a lot of athletes who are Latina. What can we do to create opportunities so that all girls, regardless of where they come from, have the opportunity to experience the power of sport.

You’re speaking October 27 at the Fifth Annual LA84 Foundation Summit. Give our readers a brief on how you intend to build on LA84's legacy.

It’s about the rebranding of LA84 and the work that we’re going to do going forward. Our hashtag is #playingforward.

We will reflect on the legacy and impact we’ve had over the last 30 years, and how we’re going to play that work forward in terms of priority areas. the LA84 Foundation will shifts the emphasis of its community investment, advocacy, research and convening powers focused on efforts to level and elevate the field of youth sport. The foundation will continue to help fund youth sports programs, but will place a greater emphasis on the wide range of positive academic, social and health outcomes associated with youth sport participation and to bring together partners and thought leaders to more fully expand the scale and impact of our work. The goal is to fully leverage the transformative power of youth sports to positive life benefits and community development. As the foundation moves in this new direction it will strengthen its commitment to underserved populations and will focus on increasing participation for all young people, particularly school-based sports programs;  girls and girls leadership opportunities; as well as expanding opportunities for youth with intellectual and physical disabilities.

The event will also bring together civic leaders, sports organizations and foundations to discuss best practices across the country and what role can other funders or engaged minds come together to do around those priorities.

One big announcement that we’re most excited about is that we’re going to reveal the results of the first-ever Youth Participation Survey in Los Angeles County. Until now, there have been national-level sports participation surveys, but never one that looks at youth sports in Los Angeles.

This will help to inform us about who's participating, who’s not participating, where they’re participating, how they’re participating, what sports they want to participate in that may not be offered, and more. We will be sharing these results with civic leaders, foundations, and sports programs to help all of us better inform our work, our focus areas, and our investments.

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© 2020 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.