50 years of OPERS at UC Santa Cruz: pride, memories, and vintage snapshots

UCSC hosted the All Cal Intramurals Festival in 1982. They changed the traditional format of the games to be co-ed and also made the teams inter-campus. This means, for instance, in a tennis match, a man from UC Santa Cruz might be paired up with a woman from UC San Diego to compete against a man from UC Barbara and a woman from UC Davis. This photo shows a variety of inter-campus players. (all photos courtesy of OPERS)

A sports summer camp was available for the children of faculty and staff in 1970. The children built their own soap box derby cars and raced them down the driveway at OPERS. 

Mel Hussey was the grounds keeper at UC Santa Cruz in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He  maintained the sports fields.

UC Santa Cruz's recreation department has been taking students to the Grand Canyon to hike and canoe during spring break since the 1970’s. In this photo, Terry Warner, a recreation leader, is jumping into the river.

Here are summer campers on campus, having a spelunking adventure in a limestone cave. 

The woman in this photo is identified only as "Thelma, sec" on the back of the print.
Here are the 1984 winter co-ed basketball champs at UC Santa Cruz.

UC Santa Cruz is not famous for its competitive athletics. They don't hand out sports scholarships to come here. The school mascot is a mollusk that can't even run—or, for that matter, walk.

But sports and recreation have always been an important part of the campus's identity. Athletic teams are packed with committed and talented students and coaches. Part of UC Santa Cruz's spirit manifests itself on the playing field, the practice room, and the dance studio.

Ever since the campus opened its doors 50 years ago, the Office of Physical Education, Recreation, and Sports (OPERS) at UC Santa Cruz has given students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the Santa Cruz community the opportunity to become actively involved in an organized sports and recreation program. OPERS oversees intramural sports clubs, drop-in recreation, and physical education classes that serve the entire campus community.

Treasure trove of OPERS photos

This fall, a group of long-time OPERS staff members shared recollections and vintage photos celebrating the office's history. The quirky photos—some with readily identifiable students and staff members from the '60s, '70s, and '80s, others with cryptic scenes and tantalizingly mysterious explanatory notes scrawled on the back—reveal the past of a campus where students cherish freedom of expression as much as they value the sporting life.

One photo shows the smiling 1984 winter co-ed basketball champions. This snapshot must have been taken just after this group of erstwhile Slugs tromped the opposing team, whoever that was.

There are several pictures of Summer Recreation Program students from off campus bravely zooming around in what appears to be a homemade go-cart, and getting ready for some serious "spelunking" through a cave on campus.

In a couple of black-and-white photos, a groundskeeper from long ago patrols the area near the East Field House. His name is Mel Hussey, and he looks like he's having a very fine time.

In another picture, a UC Santa Cruz student takes what seems to be a risky leap into a body of water that appears, from the photo, to be only a few inches deep. All the photos have inscrutable little thumbtack holes on the top as if they've been hanging on someone's bulletin board for who knows how long.

The photos show a wildly disparate variety of OPERS scenes. Julie Kimball, a yoga and swim instructor for OPERS, likened all these sports and recreation possibilities to "so many spokes to the wheel. The wheel can be a metaphor for an institution with many moving parts. Since 1965, OPERS has been an integral wheel and/or a hub on campus. It offers something for everyone—4,000 individuals come through our doors daily."

Whether those affiliates are learning wilderness survival skills, taking a swimming course, learning to surf, playing tennis, participating in intramural softball or ultimate Frisbee, or just making use of the Olympic-style pool, they're enriching their lives outside the classroom or escaping momentarily from the pressures of work.

Sports for personal enrichment

The lack of a football team is part of what makes UC Santa Cruz unconventional. But, as these old photos attest, all along the campus has embraced sports and recreation for personal enrichment.

"I think there was a push at some point to try and make sports a little more 'legitimate,' a little bit more institutionalized like Berkeley and places like that," said Karol Fabrizio, retired director of recreation at UC Santa Cruz. "But the campus never really went for it. Traditionally all these things are great, and it's nice that (other schools) offer them, but I don't think our students wanted to back referendums to put huge amounts of money in stadiums and have to fund an operational budget (for major sports teams)."

The idea, she said, is to make sports and recreation activities as inclusive and enriching as possible, including the popular Wilderness Orientation programs for incoming first-years, who have been camping out and bonding together in national forests and parks each summer for over 25 years.

"It is very clear why I love it," said Rena Cochlin, a dance instructor at OPERS for the past 42 years, referring to the accessible programs. The idea, she said, is "to get students with two left feet, and we offer them classes that will help them get one right foot and one left one, and introduce them to things they can do for the rest of their lives."