Pasadena Games Report

by journojames on February 19, 2012

Originally published May 3, 2011

The Amazing Russet Race, Photo by JournoJames

PASADENA, Calif. – Potatoes were scattered all over the football field at Jackie Robinson Stadium. College students dressed in extra large chef jackets were frantically taking these heavy vegetables and overstuffing them inside their culinary uniforms.

It was the “Amazing Russet Race,” an odd relay contest to see which local college team could move 500 pounds of potato the quickest. Racers stuffed their chef jackets with as many potatoes as possible and dumped them 30 yards away at a weigh station with students and potatoes spilling everywhere on the field.

“This is fun,” said John Rabe of KPCC radio’s “Off-Ramp,” who was watching as the event’s emcee. “So far, this russet race has been pretty good for entertainment value.”

That’s exactly what event organizers had hoped. The russet race was just one of many curious events at the second annual Pasadena Collegiate Field Tournament, an assortment of unusual challenges for the city’s college students that organizers hoped would become a modern tradition that they could call their very own.

MC John Rabe of KPCC, Photo by JournoJames

The city already has signature events like the famous New Year’s Tournament of Roses Parade and its irreverent cousin the Doo Dah Parade. But city organizers now want an event that highlights other important aspects of Pasadena.

“We’re a college town,” said city of Pasadena’s Economic Development Manager Eric Duyshart, whose group came up with the tournament. “There were very few things that were occurring in our city that highlighted our universities.”

Pasadena is home to more than 40,000 students who attend at six major colleges and universities, including schools like the California Institute of Technology and the Fuller Theological Seminary. These diverse and specialized institutions share a city but little else, according to Duyshart. The students of these colleges rarely cross paths and don’t compete with each other in any NCAA recognized sport.

All six local Pasadena schools competed: the Arts Center College of Design, Caltech, Fuller Theological Seminary, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Design, Pacific Oaks College and Pasadena City College, pitting student artists, scientists, theologians, and chefs against each other.

Team Le Cordon Bleu is introduced, Photo by JournoJames

Each team is allowed up to 20 students who participate in unusual forms of competition that pay homage to the city or the specialties of each school. This year had a Lego car design contest, a nod to the Art Center for producing so many car designers. Last year, the first-year of the tournament, featured a tasty cheeseburger cooking-contest; a Pasadena sandwich shop is reputed to have invented the first cheeseburger back in the 1920s.

“Our hope with this is to bring schools together, first and foremost, and to bring camaraderie and sportsmanship,” said Pasadena’s Special Events Manager Michelle Bernal. “But, above and beyond that, I think this could grow in terms of bringing the community together.”

There were fewer than 200 spectators to watch the most recent tournament on April 8, but the small turnout didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm or the spirit of the games.

The small but spirited spectators, Photo by JournoJames

“It’s great,” said Tara Zamayoa, who was in the stands at Pasadena City College cheering on her nephew on the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Design team. “I love to see all the camaraderie with the kids. I like to see all the colleges get together and just have fun.”

Those like Zamayoa, who endured a cold, breezy night, saw several peculiar contests, including a school spirit competition from each team that involved choreographed cheers; the Lego car design challenge; the Frisbee toss and catch contest; the potato relay race; the croquet challenge played with giant-sized mallets, balls and wickets; and a traditional game of capture the flag. The “Tower of Babel” competition, a human pyramid-building contest involving blindfolds and no-talking, was the only challenge that was dropped from the night’s agenda due to time constraints.

Points are awarded for each challenge, usually ranging from 30 for first place and 15 for last place. The team with the most points after all the events is crowned champion and awarded a trophy.

Calteach won last year’s tournament.

The competition throughout the evening looked fierce but friendly The “Lego Car Design” challenge was a crowd favorite, going by the enthusiastic sounds of cheers.

Christopher Cofino, 21, captain of Le Cordon Bleu gave a short pep talk to his team before the challenge.

“We’re here to win but have fun and be respectful,” Cofino told his fellow student chefs. “Remember who you represent.”

The whistle then blew and the challenge started. Teams quickly got into their own huddles and frantically started working on building small hand-sized cars out of the plastic toy pieces. Some looked boxy and basic with four wheels while others were more elaborate, resembling drag racers.

Twenty minutes later, cars of all shapes and colors were lined up at a starting line on a tall, sloped ramp. Another whistle blew and all the cars were let go. The toys raced down the ramp that brought loud cheers from both spectators and participants.

Le Cordon Bleu's winning Lego car, Photo by JournoJames

Le Cordon Bleu’s entry, designed to look like a Formula One race car, proved to be the fastest, inspiring Marc Stewart, 23, the chief designer, to raise his arms in celebration with a shout of victory.

Another highlight was the “Frisbee Touchdown” contest. In this event, each team had a Frisbee thrower who had three chances to toss a Frisbee to a teammate who was being defended by opposing team members in the end zone of the stadium. The team with the most catches garnered the most points.

This challenge honors Frisbee golf that was first played in the mid-1960s at the Rose Bowl, according to the Professional Disc Golf Association. It’s also a nod to Pasadena’s Oak Grove Park Disc Golf Course, near NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, which is considered to be the first one of its kind in the world. The course is still in operation today.

The Caltech team dominated the event. Their athletes sprinted and dived all over the field attempting to catch the plastic toy disc. Several of their players suffered scraped knees and elbows but they won the challenge.

“I did this last year and enjoyed it,” said Chiraj Dalal, 28, a biochemistry graduate student at Caltech and a catcher in the Frisbee contest. “I like the camaraderie, the competition, and it’s lots of fun running around a football field.”

The Croquet Challenge, Photo by JournoJames

Bernal said that this year’s event was a little different from the first year. Event organizers, she said, wanted to encourage more involvement by the schools so that allowed them to come up with their own challenges and guidelines.

Last year’s tournament site, the Rose Bowl, is currently under construction and organizers hope to be back there when work finishes in a couple of years.

Bernal said that they started planning the tournament last November.

“The tournament is our first foray into producing our own event in house, so it’s really cool,” she said. “It could open more doors to other similar events happening.”

Bernal wasn’t aware of any other events like this one. She said Red Bull, the popular energy drink company, sometimes sponsors outlandish competitive contests with college students nationwide and that would come closest to resembling the tournament. Red Bull’s recent challenges include building sleds out of cardboard to plunge down snowy hills and elaborate chariots to race through city streets.

Rabe, the KPCC radio personality, said the tournament reminded him of charming old-fashioned events that used to be held in small towns across the country.

“My father was a PR man back in Michigan,” Rabe said. “He did stuff like this, like a stone skipping contest on Mackinaw Island, like unicorn hunting every year. This is goofy, it’s creative, and it’s wonderfully chaotic.”

Teams gathered at Pasadena City College, Photo by JournoJames

Rabe and many of the participants thanked city organizers for putting on such a quirky event. But Pasadena City Councilmember Terry Tornek, who was there as a judge, said the event was really a thank you to the colleges for all their contributions.

“Most of these schools don’t have athletic or quasi-athletic opportunities, so I think something like is really kind of cool,” he said. “Institutions are so important to a community. They make contributions in so many different ways. And it’s rare to pull them together like this to a single event. So, it’s really our way, as a city, of recognizing the contributions these institutions make to the city and have a good time at the same time.”

After the Lego toy pieces were put away, the stray potatoes picked up, and the last Frisbee tossed into the equipment bag, the scoreboard showed that two teams were tied for first place: Caltech and Fuller.

Both teams celebrated with the rest of the tournament’s competitors at a tailgate party at Avery House on Caltech’s campus following the event.

The 2011 Champions, Fuller, Photo by JournoJames

“We’d love to come back again next year,” said Adrianne Penner, a member of the winning Fuller team after the tournament. “We really enjoyed getting to compete with other schools. It was wonderful to get to spend some time with other students.”

At the end of the event Bernal looked tired but pleased.

“Pasadena has so many events,” She said. “But to have a signature event that we can call our own that has as much meaning, that’s what makes this event really cool.”

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