The mission of the L.A. Watts Summer Games is to build bridges of understanding among high school youth. The Games strive to promote positive interaction, respect and achievement through spirited competition in athletics.
In the spring of 1968, the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce established the Watts Junior Olympics. Conceived by a belief in the promise of youth and respect for the dignity of human life, the L.A. Watts Summer Games “promotes positive interaction through competition in athletics, art and scholastics.” The name is a reminder that all Americans must seek new forms of communication with one another if we are to avoid the problems and tensions that ultimately resulted in the Watts riots of 1965.
The Games were modeled after the Olympic Games by William Sims and fellow members of the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce. An original goal of the Games was to provide awareness of Olympic sports and to develop athletic talent from Southern California for future Olympic competition. This goal has come to fruition by encouraging young athletes such as Jamaal Wilkes, Florence Griffith Joyner, John Elway, Valerie Brisco Hooks, Vince Ferragamo, and Byron Scott, to name a few.
The success of the first Games – which involved 150 athletes competing in three events at Locke High School – persuaded all who were involved that the concept was sound. Through the years, the number of participants grew to 12,000 and new sports were added to the competition, totaling 17 events.
Additionally, competitions were added in cheerleading, music, art and poetry. As the number of participants and sports continued to grow, so did the geographic boundaries from which the participants came: Southern California, Central California, Oregon, Louisiana, and even New Zealand.
Almost 200,000 youth have competed during the past 30 years. To promote the achievements of high school students in areas other than athletics, “scholastics” was added to the mission of the Games to recognize the accomplishments of both athletes and scholars. The Games established a scholarship program for youth dedicated to serving the community through volunteerism, and has awarded more than $300,000 in scholarships since its inception in 1992.
The Games are not just designed for a gathering of cultures. They are a gathering of ideas, philosophies and the realization that today’s youth can achieve common goals, and reach greater heights through sports. All of the young men and women who compete are winners in their own right, because they do their best, and participate in the spirit of fair play.
As each year ushers in new volunteers, sponsors, spectators, and community support, thousands of youth push themselves to greater achievements, learn to rise above hardship and prejudice and pursue their dreams and goals.
- The Games grew to be the largest high school athletic competition in the nation with more than 7,000 participants.
- The Games are covered by more than 30 media outlets, including two weeks of pre-Games coverage by NBC. Additional coverage draws from CBS, ABC, Fox, the Los Angeles Times, Power 106 FM, The Beat, Xtra Sports 690 AM as well as many other print, radio and television sources.
- More than 300 volunteers from the LAJCC, community organizations, youth groups, CIF officials and other corporations support the implementation of the Games.
- The reach of the Games extends to students and schools in the following counties: Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Luis Obispo and San Francisco.
- Recognized accomplishment, with more than 40 years of equity and good standing in the Southern California and high school athletic communities.
- The L.A. Watts Summer Games is a nonprofit event.
- The California Interscholastic Federation continues in its support and endorsement of the Games.
L.A. Watts Summer Games Highlights
- 1969 – Games moved to LA High School. Gymnastics, swimming and diving added. Number of athletes increased to 600.
- 1970 – Women’s events added for the first time. Games moved to Cal State LA. Soccer and wrestling added.
- 1971 – Football and Tennis added to Games.
- 1974 – Games attracted more than 5,000 youth.
- 1975 – Men’s water polo, art and music competitions added.
- 1977 – Woman named Most Outstanding Participant
- 1978 – First woman chair named. Softball competition added.
- 1979 – Games move to East L.A. College. Judo competition added, totaling 23 events. Leadership and volunteer awards established.
- 1980 – Participation reaches all time high. Steering Committee organization and structure improved.
- 1981 – First Pro-Stars Celebrity Basketball Game, featuring 17 Games alumni.
- 1983 – Summer Games Foundation created for year-round fundraising management.
- 1984 – Games committee implemented a plan to invlove the Southern Pacific Association Amateur Athletic Union.
- 1985 – A record 128 men’s basketball teams competed. Games participation surpassed Olympic Games with more than 9,000 participants.
- 1986 – Games moved to El Camino College. Cheerleading competition held at Knotts Berry Farm and hosted more than 1,000 cheerleaders.
- 1987 – Games celebrates 20th anniversary.
- 1988 – A Rap for Peace Symposium in Association with the Community Youth Gang Services was established.
- 1992 – Scholarship Program established.
- 1991 – The number of athletes grew to 12,000.
- 1999 – Florence Griffith Joyner Alumni Award established by committee member Jan Hardy.
- 2000 – Most sports move to two-game guarantee.
- 2004 – The Home Depot Center becomes the host venue for the Games.
- 2006 – Community 5K Run/Walk added.
- 2007 – Games celebrates 40th anniversary.
- 2008 – SpiritFest Event was created to encompass the Cheer, Dance, Hip Hop and Pom Categories. The LAWSG Logo was changed.
- 2009 – LA Southwest College once again becomes the Host Venue for the Games. Boys and Girls Lacrosse was added to the Games Tournament.
- 2010 – Advisory Council established. Games logo changed to be more in line with the overall LAJCC Brand.
- 2011 – Opportunities through Education Day added to the overall LAWSG Program. Annual Games Fundraiser established, The Champions Ball.