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New President of Tournament Views Criticisms as Challenges : Tradition: Cool-headed leader is under pressure to put more minorities in top roles and open books to scrutiny.

July 11, 1993|EDMUND NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PASADENA — For outsiders, figuring out who among the Tournament of Roses' close-to-the-vest leaders is a progressive and who is a hard-line traditionalist is a challenging exercise.

"It's sort of like looking at the Politburo," joked one senior city official.

But it would be a big surprise if Michael E. Ward, the tournament's new president, were anything but middle-of-the-road. A second-generation tournament leader and the president of a 70-year-old Pasadena business, Ward is a native Pasadenan for whom joining the tournament 32 years ago was, he says, "the thing to do."

A lot of tournament-watchers in Pasadena are doing some prognosticating these days, trying to figure which way the 98-year-old organization will go in the face of a head-on challenge.

Will it opt for tradition or for fundamental changes?

Ward, the vice president until two weeks ago, assumed leadership of the organization when tournament President Delmer D. Beckhart died suddenly. The new president, who will complete Beckhart's one-year term and then succeed himself for another year, finds himself leading the organization onto what promises to be a stretch of rocky road.

Black community and business leaders say they are preparing to declare war on the tournament unless it immediately opens its top echelons to more non-Anglos and opens its books to outside scrutiny.

The City Council has hired former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso to look into the complicated relationship between the tournament and the city--an investigation that tournament leaders insist they welcome.

At the same time, the Ad Hoc Committee to End Discrimination, a coalition of minority groups, has set Aug. 1 as a deadline for the tournament to admit enough ethnic minority group members to make up 40% of the leadership. Of the tournament's 39 top positions, which include nine members of the executive committee and 30 chairmen of standing committees, only one is now filled by a minority, an Asian-American.

The ad hoc group has intimated that it might approach float sponsors and try to get them to withdraw from parade activities if the deadline is not met.

Ward, 56, a tall, bookish-looking man with a reputation around tournament headquarters on Orange Grove Boulevard as a cool head under fire, responds to all of this calmly.

What about the Ad Hoc Committee's deadline?

"It's important to understand that's their date, not our date," Ward said. "I feel that, through Del's leadership, we've taken many strides to address the minority issues."

Ward referred to the tournament's most recent initiative, the recruitment in May of 107 new members, almost half of them minorities.

Bringing in new volunteers at the entry level--"A concentrated outreach for different segments which heretofore did not have much interest in volunteering," as Ward describes it--is something that he is prepared to support wholeheartedly.

But overriding the tournament's seniority system to place non-Anglos in leadership jobs? That's more than Ward is willing to accept.

"The wonderful thing about the tournament is that everyone starts in the same place, learning about putting on the parade from the ground up," he said.

Changing the emphasis on seniority would penalize some long-term volunteers who are waiting to move up, he contends. "I feel that there are people who have worked very hard at the tournament for a number of years, and it's important for them to have equal opportunity," Ward said.

The tournament has a total membership of 935.

Ward began learning about the tournament and its most dazzling creation, the Rose Parade, long before he became a member. "I grew up in the tournament," he said.

His father, Stanley N. Ward, was a longtime volunteer who headed the float construction committee. "In those days, many chairmen had committee meetings at home," Ward said.

On New Year's Eve, Ward, the oldest of three brothers, often accompanied his father on his rounds along Orange Grove Boulevard, where the floats were being prepared for the long glide down Colorado Boulevard.

Along the way, the young Ward, who graduated from Pasadena High School and quarterbacked the school's football team, accumulated not only a lot of know-how on staging the world's most lavish parade but also, he says, a sense of mission about the endeavor.

"Our mission is to produce the most spectacular floral display possible," he said. "And to make it better each year than the previous year."

In 1961, Ward became a tournament volunteer, a white-suited grunt guarding the floats. He and fellow recruits saw tournament work as a public service, he said.

"It was our way of giving back to the community," Ward said.

By then, Ward had graduated from Arizona State University with a BA in business, served two years in the Army and taken over the family business.

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