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Utah universities getting involved with Winter Games

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To say that the University of Utah is involved in the Winter Games is an understatement along the lines of saying Picabo Street moves kind of quickly on skis.

The U. will play host to the Olympic Village, which will house 3,500 athletes and coaches from more than 80 countries, and the Olympic Stadium (a k a Rice-Eccles Stadium) where the Winter Games will open with a bang and most likely end with an even bigger bang.

Beyond the U., though, other institutions of higher learning are planning on doing all they can to be a part of the Salt Lake Games.

Even though Utah State University is well out of the Olympic bubble of activity, plans are being made at the school to enjoy the Games as much as possible.

"We realize that being in Logan, we are in the shadow of the Olympic torch, but not so far that we can't bask in the glow of it," said USU communications director John DeVilbiss.

One of the celebrations during the Olympics will be the annual Glenn Miller Big Band night with the theme "When America Sings," which is being sponsored partly by the Cultural Olympiad.

Beyond the fun and games, the university's communications department is taking advantage of the influx of media in Salt Lake City by having many of its students intern for International Sports Broadcasting. Also, the Aggies will be helping a Canadian broadcast network produce the "Zoolympics" featuring the unique animal life in the American West.

There will not be classes at USU from Feb. 18-22 so that students will be able to volunteer and make the most of the Games.

Down I-15 at Brigham Young University, the plan is to put its best foot forward with the school's performers.

The Ballroom Dance Company, International Folk Dance Ensemble and Living Legends will all be a part of the Winter Games opening ceremonies Feb. 8. The ballroom dancers will also make a return appearance, this time with the BYU Philharmonic Orchestra, as a part of the closing ceremonies as well.

Also, the Young Ambassadors, Living Legends, Dancers' Company and Folk Dance Ensemble will be a part of the "Light of the World" production at the LDS Conference Center that will play most nights during the Games.

BYU spokeswoman Carri P. Jenkins said there's been a lot of media interest in BYU and that when the Games come, the golf carts that give the campus tours will "be out in full force."

"The Games, of course, are about the athletes, but we have had a lot of international journalists coming in and wanting more information about the university," Jenkins said. "We are just trying to make it as accessible as possible."

To make good use of the many students who speak a foreign language, the College of Humanities at BYU will be providing translation for little things like international visitors wanting to go to the mall or to the store.

BYU will also will not hold classes the second week of the Winter Games and Jenkins said that students who decide to volunteer for both weeks of the Olympics, will have school-excused absences for the first week.

Encouraging students to get involved is a near-universal theme with the schools. At Salt Lake Community College, the call to get involved in the Olympics has come from the top, said SLCC employee Lynn Cundiff.

"In our president's (H. Lynn Cundiff) office is the torch he used when he ran the torch before the Atlanta Games," Cundiff said. "He's encouraging students and letting employees off to volunteer for the Games."

Weber State practically has an Olympic venue on campus. The Ice Sheet where curling will take place, sits right next to the campus' Dee Events Center. The university has canceled classes from Feb. 1-27 and is even offering two personal days to university personnel that must be taken during the Games.

"There has been a major change in the routine, but everyone is taking it in stride," said WSU director of media relations John Kowalewski. "The folks here are seeing it as a once in a lifetime experience."

In the end, the U. is doing the most and stands to get the most out of the Winter Games.

"It's an enormous opportunity for exposure and a lot of good publicity," said U. news and communications specialist Remi Barron. "We're already getting a half dozen to a dozen phone calls from world media every day, and it's just snowballing into more and more."

At the U., where some students have even had to up and move to another part of campus, most people aren't losing sight of the big picture, Barron said.

"I've talked to a lot of students who have said that the Olympics is the best thing to ever happen to the university."

E-MAIL: pthunell@desnews.com