UCLA Spotlight

Anita Ortega: a Bruin success story

  • Published Nov 3, 2008 8:00 AM

One of the two 'Anita Ortega' buses (Photo by Reed Hutchinson)

This Saturday some 800 students will ride UCLA shuttle buses to the Rose Bowl. About 70 of them will ride on buses bearing Anita Ortega's picture. And whether they know it or not, that's very appropriate.

Anita Ortega left UCLA a basketball star. But she arrived with neither fanfare nor an athletic scholarship. Like so many of today's Bruins, she was a first-generation college student: no one in her family had ever attended a university. Her father worked hard to provide a home for his family in South Los Angeles, but her parents possessed neither a bank account nor a car.

It was Ortega's sixth-grade teacher who told her about UCLA, and her own determination that kept her headed toward college. With the help of her high school counselor and teachers, she kept up her grades, took the tests and filed the paperwork for admission. Once on campus, she made the basketball team as a walk-on.

Advice from her 6th grade teacher

The rest, as they say, is history: in 1978 Ortega played guard for the first UCLA team to win a national championship in women's basketball. In the final game she led all scorers with 23 as UCLA defeated Maryland, 90-74. Her name and photo still appear in the women's basketball media guide as one of the "Bruin elite."

But Ortega is about more than sports. After playing professionally for the San Francisco Pioneers and Minnesota Fillies in the first Women's Pro Basketball League (WBL), she finished her B.A. in psychology in 1982. She spent a few years as an assistant coach at UCLA, then joined the Los Angeles Police Department. There she rose through the ranks, advancing to captain in 2002. As commanding officer of the communications division, Ortega oversees nearly 600 sworn and civilian employees.

"I learned that I could be strong, confident, and determined," Ortega says of her UCLA days.

Ortega is one of six UCLA alumni featured in the "Big UCLA Moment" Pac-10/NCAA television spots. She's the first to appear on the UCLA shuttle buses that help students, faculty and staff travel around the campus (and on football Saturdays, to the Rose Bowl).

See all the NCAA spots: Bruin hall of famers share their "big UCLA moment"

Note: In 1978, the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) crowned the national champion. That's why the 1978 victory isn't counted among UCLA's 103 NCAA championships.