LAS: With your extensive professional background throughout the civic, business, professional sports and political arenas, what interested you in leading the LA84 Foundation?
Renata Simril: I received a call from a recruiter after I resigned from the LA Times. I was familiar with the organization and thought it would be a great job to have as the Foundation has greatly impacted sports and youth throughout southern California.
LA84 continues to advance the Olympic ideals which promotes excellence and being your best self. I had the opportunity to work with former president, Anita DeFrantz and Vice President of Grants & Programs Patrick Escobar during a renovation project with the Dodgers to refurbish baseball fields in urban communities.
When I got the call to interview, it was surprising and overwhelming particularly to follow Anita who’s an icon in the sports industry as an Olympian as well as an International Olympic Committee Member. To succeed such a legendary woman of color, was a huge responsibility and a privilege. After several months of interviews, I was selected and I’ve been President/CEO for the past year.
LAS: What new and innovative ideas are you bringing to the position?
RS: One of things I’m most proud of within this first year, is our new youth advisory group, the Student Athletes in Motion (SAMbassadors) in honor of our mascot. It’s a group of thirty kids ages 12-17 who are student athletes who maintain great grades. We’re engaging them in the work that we do. Through a youth participation survey we found that skateboarding is the highest played frequency sport. We found that kids skateboarded 11 million hours last year and the largest group of skateboarders are African American males ages 15-17; so to be able to ask questions like: ‘Are you seeing skateboarding within your community? Why is it an attractive sport for young African American males?’ We engage them and invest in their thinking to see how our work reflects back in their communities. I’m proud to see the work we’re doing to help kids find their voice so they can then give back in meaningful ways, regardless of how old they are. We’re focused on getting kids directly involved with our work and finding gaps for kids that want to play sports by providing opportunities for them to do so.
LAS: As a woman of color, what were adverse moments in your career that you had to overcome in order to become the leader you are today?
RS: I learned very early on that you grow when you’re outside of your comfort zone. Being in the military was way outside of my comfort zone. I was a military police officer and for sixmonths, I was probably the only female in my MP unit and to add to that I was a combat MP so we spent half the time in the field preparing for war games, caring rifles and ammunition so it was very physically demanding. What I learned through that experience was that I had to carry my own weight. I was assigned to that unit and couldn’t say, ‘I’m a girl so I can’t carry this ammunition.’
As an African American woman to be able to be vocal and carry my own weight and do the job gave me a unique foundation that many young women don’t necessarily have today. The elements of that experience that should translate to any woman in a leadership position–be good at what you do. Speak your mind when you know you’re right and do the job extremely well. As I transitioned from government to real estate, having worked for Mark Ridley-Thomas when he was a councilman, I really studied, what it was going to take to make me the best real estate executive that I could be? And I made sure that I was just as smart if not smarter than the men I worked with. I didn’t carry a chip on my shoulder because I was a woman, I just focused on the job at hand.
Find those opportunities where you can have mentors and role models to help guide you when you’re out of your comfort zone. And once you get through that first challenging experience, it becomes easier to do it the next time.
LAS: How does the LA84 Foundation help to empower students to build their self esteem through sports?
RS: LA84 supports the good in sports. Our structured sports programs are predicated on creating a safe, engaging environment for kids to thrive and become their best selves. Our motto is “life ready through sports”. We fund sports programs that give kids an opportunity to experience those life skills to make them ready whether that’s on or off the field.
We’ve invested quite a bit of our foundation dollars into coaching education. We’ve trained approximately 75,000 coaches. We see that they’re the first engagement that kids have and we want their experience to be as positive as possible so that they can continue their sport career throughout their lives.
LAS: Can you give insight into your day as the President/CEO of the LA84 Foundation?
RS: I don’t think people have a full appreciation for what we do. Grant funding is one aspect–we also do coaching education as well as conferences so that thought leaders within sports can convene to discuss positive youth development and we also maintain one of the largest collections of sports heritage, memorabilia and Olympic artifacts in the world which includes every torch from every Olympic games.
My job as the president/CEO of the foundation is to guide all aspects of our work. With regard to grant programs, we identify the gaps in the marketplace and how can we re-tweak and re-establish our grant guidelines to make sure that we’re being as impactful in the community as possible. I work with the VP of Grants and Programs to make sure that we’re getting a return on our investment as well as making the most significant impact in the community.
With coaching education, we’re starting to pivot this year as we’ve found in the NCAA and professional level, while we’ve achieved gains in women’s coaching, we’ve also taken a couple steps back so we’re now engaging some leaders in that space to see how we can help to encourage more women coaches at the grass roots level for some of our school based and community based programs.
At any point in time I’m conversing with someone about loaning our Olympic artifacts.
I’m also working with my team to assess what are our priorities and next projects. I recently had a meeting about special needs–specifically physically disabled programs and how we might collaborate to fill that gap within the communities we serve.
No two days are the same. Instead of an inbox with 20 messages, it’s more like 120 emails but the impact and the focus of my work couldn’t be more of a blessing for me at this point in my career.