Wayne Wilson worked with the LA84 Foundation for over 30 years. (Photo courtesy of the LA84 Foundation)
South Torrance High School

Wayne Wilson revolutionizes the LA84 Foundation’s digitization of sports documents for 30 years

Wayne Wilson has worked for the LA84 Foundation since 1987, marking this year as his thirty-first anniversary. He has been a significant contributor to the foundations development of a digital and physical library for the past three decades, and has made his mark in the field of sports history preservation.

Having received multiple degrees in sports and library related studies, Wilson was already very familiar with the ins and outs of both subjects when he first began working for the LA84 Foundation.

“I started working on a consulting basis for the foundation starting in 1987, at the time they were considering creating a library… my first title here was actually library director,” Wilson said. “I came in and set up a traditional library, and we operated as a traditional library for many years.”

As the early 90s rolled around and the rise of technology and the internet began, Wilson saw an opportunity that most individuals at the time did not. He set out to create digitized versions of the documents that the library had, as well as a website for these documents to be uploaded on.

“We are now, I think, the first one percent of the first 1 percent of websites ever created — and we got on the web really early with digitized sport materials,” Wilson said.

Considering the public’s scarce use of the internet at the time, Wilson was thinking way into the future. Again, this was when the Internet had just started to gain traction, so Wilson did deal with some backlash due to his actions.

“People told us that it would be expensive and time consuming, that we didn’t know what we were doing, that PDF wouldn’t be a format,” Wilson said. “But as it turned out, we were well under budget, well under schedule, and PDF has turned out to be a stable and widely used storage medium.”

Originally, the digital library consisted mainly of documents from the Helms Athletic Foundation — where Wilson originally obtained the items for his traditional library. And as he continued to digitize these documents, he started to realize a trend.

“We found very quickly that what people wanted access to the most were Olympic documents,” Wilson said.

Knowing this, Wilson approached the International Olympic Committee to ask for permission to digitize some of their documents — which they approved. After doing so, he started to get approached by other organizations who wanted their work on sports and sports history to be digitized as well.

This digital library began to grow very quickly, and since he first began, Wilson has helped digitize well over 120,000 articles, photographs, and other written documents about sports. As if this wasn’t impressive enough, Wilson has also contributed as an author and editor of two sports books: “The Oxford Handbook of Sports History” and “LA Sports: Play, Games, and Community in the City of Angels,” which he worked on in his spare time.

In 2014, Wilson received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society of Olympic Historians in recognition of his contributions to preserving the history of the Olympic Games. Though he retired in March, Wilson still remains highly involved with the LA84 foundation as a consultant and helping with their new initiative of closing the Play Equity Gap.

“The foundation has always attempted to provide funding for people who historically were denied sports opportunities to have them,” Wilson said. “However, we have moved from an organization who provides funding, to one that is an outspoken public advocate for leveling the playing field and creating play equity.”


This story was produced through the HS Insider summer internship program which is supported by funding from LA84 Foundation.