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UCLA kicks Undie Run off campus

University officials cite rising number of fights and injuries, as well as rising costs. Students mourn the end of a finals week tradition that began seven years ago.

July 31, 2009|Corina Knoll

Boxers or briefs? Bikinis or thongs? Bras or negligees?

So many choices -- and that's just for the men.

Three times a year, UCLA's unofficial Undie Run brings out thousands of skivvy-clad students looking to unwind -- and then some -- from finals week by meeting at midnight to run from the corner of Gayley Avenue and Strathmore Place to the school's intramural field. It's all in good, clean fun, students say, growing into a tradition after 13 students decided to strip off most of their clothing and trot through the streets of Westwood seven years ago.

But on Tuesday, UCLA administrators informed student leaders that the thrice-annual gathering would no longer be allowed on campus. They cited reports of injuries, fights and property damage.

"It's reached a point where it's just a matter of time where something really serious happens," said Lawrence Lokman, associate vice chancellor for university communications.

"We see growing numbers of folks who are not students attending, and we've seen a number of incidents related to vandalism and fights and emergency calls that are alcohol-related. In the interest of safety, it was time for the administration to step in."

Although most students won't return to campus until September, the news traveled fast and a "Save Undie Run" Facebook page quickly attracted dozens of members.

Jason Tengco, a 21-year-old political science major and elected student representative, said the run was inherent to Bruin culture and served as a relief for those who had devoted long hours to the books.

"There's something liberating about being able to run free with a bunch of friends half-naked at the end of a long 10 weeks of studying," he said.

Tengco and several other student government leaders had previously met with administrators who expressed concern about past Undie Runs that resulted in broken windows and sprinkler systems, damage to Shapiro Fountain, and calls to campus police and emergency medical service units. Each run costs the university thousands of dollars in cleanup and emergency services, Lokman said.

Undie Run began in 2002 when sophomore Eric Whitehead rounded up 12 friends to join him in an underwear-only run during finals week. At the end of each subsequent quarter, an increasing number of students arrived to follow Whitehead, who sported flesh-colored shorts and a frog hat. He clutched a broomstick with a pair of boxers dangling from one end.

The creativity of the attire, or lack of it, has been a signature of the event. Some runners wear carefully placed hats or beer boxes.

UCLA is hardly the only university with such clothing-optional runs and celebrations. And the results have not always been problem-free. Last year, a decades-old fountain in Orange sustained more than $10,000 in damage after Chapman University students frolicked in it during the school's Undie Run, an incident that nearly forced cancellation this year.

Despite the university's edict, some UCLA students said they would continue the midnight ritual next fall. Others mourned the apparent end of a tradition, one that some never got to enjoy.

"It was something I wanted to experience at least once," said soon-to-be senior Christina Brown, 21, who vowed to participate in December.

For Brad Greenberg, one of the original 13 runners, the end came with a touch of nostalgia.

"I always thought it was kind of dumb, but at the same time it was something we had created," he said. "It really did take on a life of its own and there was something to be proud of there."

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corina.knoll@latimes.com

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