At the beautiful Hyatt Regency pavilion by the sea, former UC Irvine athletes and their families gathered, collecting name badges and greeting each other. They came together Saturday, Feb. 11, for the UCI 2006 Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Four athletes and one coach were honored: Mauricio Bardales, Nicole Bucciarelli, Wayne Engelstad, John Vargas and Len Miller. It was a day to appreciate what these athletes have achieved in the years since they first entered UCI as freshmen. Len Miller, the legendary cross country/track coach built up the program into a Division 1 contender in the 1970s.
There is an especially large representation of the rowing team (past and present) in an effort to increase bonds with alumni. Groups of former teammates gossip and tell stories, introduce families and search for old friends.
Scott Hirotsu is a former member of the Irvine rowing team. His best friend on the team, Duvall Hecht, is the current rowing coach and a former Olympian. ‘I probably couldn’t live without [rowing]. It helped me get through school,’ Hirotsu said, smiling.
Peter the Anteater wandered around the pavilion, dancing with the cheer team. After the delicious buffet, the crowd drifted into the ballroom where James Kruse began the ceremony by welcoming everyone and acknowledging the coaches from the various sports. Large photos of the inductees lined the stage. There were many Hall of Fame members present, including Steve Scott, the current holder of the American mile record.
Bob Chichester, director of intercollegiate athletics, came to the podium to introduce the next speakers. Senior soccer star Chris Klotz spoke about his motivations for coming to UCI and the opportunities it has given him. He emphasized the ‘family’ feeling of the athletics program and how much it helped him make the most of his time as a student athlete. David Ritchie, a former water polo player, received the Alumnus of Merit Award, given to an alumnus who has given back to the community in an exceptional way.
The first Hall inductee was Mauricio Bardales, a decathlete who competed under Len Miller. He choked up when describing joining the team as a walk-on, and going on to become an All American for three consecutive years. His outstanding performances in the decathlon set an NCAA record of 8,007 points, which has yet to be broken. Bardales began to get emotional when he thanked Miller for helping him through the rough points in his college career, declaring, ‘It’s not about me, it’s about the coaches,’ voicing a common feeling among the alumni. There was a standing ovation as he sat down.
Nicole ‘Buch’ Bucciarelli was the first female soccer player to be inducted into the UCI Hall of Fame. A petite woman, she recalled freshmen year of practice when the other girls were twice her size, but her speed made up for it as she was a member of the All-Big West First Team from 1996 to 1998. She is UCI’s all-time leader in points and goals. After winning the Lauds & Laurels Outstanding Senior Athlete in 1999, she played professional soccer in Italy for a year.
The next inductee, Wayne Engelstad, was the 1988 basketball MVP and is fourth in UCI history in career points. He thanked his former coach for everything he had done, even housing him the summer after his senior year.
Len Miller, the running coach, told stories of the athletes who left an impression on him, underdogs who worked hard and succeeded on pure guts.
John Vargas is the youngest in a family of water polo players. One brother played at UCLA and another is a former Olympian in the sport. Vargas was an All American in 1981 and 1982, helping the team win the 1982 NCAA Championship. Each of these athletes were sincere in their praise and gratitude for the support and education they received at UCI.
The event ended with laughter and photos, a nostalgic trip for many of the attendees, who got the chance to thank those who helped them succeed.