Published Apr 1, 2007 8:00 AM
Copyright ©Photo by Diana Koenigsberg
He may not be a movie star, but Chuck Winner could be UCLA's answer to Jack Nicholson. The CEO and president of Encino, Calif.-based Winner & Associates—a strategic planning crisis management company that provides public relations for such clients as Edison International and Major League Baseball—proudly attends every UCLA men's home basketball game with his wife, Annie. They sit in the courtside seats Winner purchases for $23,000 per year.
"The ball will come at you, which is OK with me, but it scares my wife," says Winner, who is also a principal of Winner & Mandabach, a firm that handles ballot measure campaigns. "My job is to defend her," he adds, laughing.
A fan of UCLA basketball since 1947, when he was an asthmatic 6-year-old who would listen to the games on the radio, Winner started buying season tickets when he was a young man. "They were lousy seats, but they were all I could afford then," he says.
Today, he and Annie—parents of Zachary, Ethan, Nicole and Justyn '00—are grant-in-aid donors, having endowed two $100,000 scholarships in men's basketball and football. Winner also uses his expertise in strategic communications to provide free consulting services to UCLA Athletics, says Ken McGuire, associate athletic director for development. Lending his leadership, resources and staff, "Chuck advises the department on how best to present and market itself to its constituency and to the UCLA community as a whole," McGuire says. Through their relations with UCLA, the Winners have gotten to know the staff and players quite well, including head basketball Coach Ben Howland.
"Chuck and Annie are just warm, genuine people who care about others," Howland says. "It's nice when you get to know people and realize how wonderful they are and how much they give back to the community."
What makes it worthwhile to Winner are the kids. "I'm interested in watching these young guys grow and become men and great citizens. Watching them win is a bonus. But if they never won, if everything else was instilled in them, it would still be worth it."
Copyright ©Photo by Diana Koenigsberg
Bruin fans who attend the men's basketball games at Pauley Pavilion can't help but smile when they see Mark Kowal in action. From his seat on the floor level, Kowal does his best to distract opposing players when they line up to shoot free throws. He jumps up and down and waves his arms, his blue wig bobbing.
"Every time he does that, even if I'm on the bench, I crack a smile," says junior center Lorenzo Mata. "If I were on the other team, it sure would bother me."
Kowal, who is aphasic, estimates that his antics work about 65 percent of the time. He has sat in the same spot since 1995, when his brother, Eric '91, began working in the video unit of the Athletics Department and got the floor seats. Prior to that, Kowal sat in the upper level with his mother, Marti '78.
"I get to see the action up close and personal," Kowal says. "I know not only Coach Wooden, but I also know one of his former Bruin players, Michael Warren. And I'll also sometimes see Bill Walton."
Kowal used to wave blue and gold noodles (foam tubes), but he gave them to a kid last year after the UCLA-Oregon game. "I used to wave towels, but I probably lost them somewhere," he says.
When he's not working as a food sales clerk at the Los Angeles Zoo, Kowal enjoys bowling (his average is in the 180s) and supporting the UCLA football team and the UCLA women's gymnastics team. After he attended the NCAA gymnastics championship in 2004 in Pauley Pavilion, which the Bruins won, Kowal recalls receiving an e-mail from Coach Valorie Kondos Field '87. "It said, 'Thanks for supporting us. We needed a Bruin fan who is a real gymnastics expert,' " he says proudly.