This Saturday at 9 a.m., Long Beach Poly will begin the process of reviving one of the city’s most beloved sports traditions. The Jackrabbits are hosting Cabrillo, Compton, Jordan, Lakewood, and Wilson for a full day that the local schools are calling the “Milk Bowl,” a name well-known to Long Beach football fans.
“This year is just the first step, we’ve got big plans for what we hope we can grow this into,” said Poly coach Stephen Barbee. “We know it’s different, but we want a day where the community can come support all of its football teams, to put the spotlight on these kids and hopefully help the local programs raise some money as well.”
This year’s event will be a 7 on 7 round robin tournament that features a lineman competition so the big boys can get involved.
From 1948 until 1989, the Milk Bowl was an annual tradition in Long Beach. Harry J. Moore, Poly vice-principal and Wilson principal, was at that time an assistant superintendent of the Long Beach Unified School District. Moore was still a decade away from having the LBUSD’s sports league named after him, and LBUSD superintendent Douglas Newcomb hadn’t yet had an elementary school named after him either.
Moore and Newcomb wanted to have all of the city’s public schools scrimmage against each other as a way of raising money for the PTA’s Milk Fund, which is how the game became known as the Milk Bowl. It began as the final game of the year but eventually moved to the first game of the year and was held at Veterans Memorial Stadium instead of a rotating group of campuses. Later in the 1950s, Lakewood and Millikan were added to the original roster of Poly, Wilson, and Jordan.
The game was wildly successful as both a fundraiser and as a point of civic pride. More than 5,000 fans crammed Poly’s stands for the first game in 1948, and in 1970, a whopping 18,931 fans visited Vets for the game. The action on the field featured a rotating quarter-by-quarter scrimmage with each team playing against the others for one period.
There were bands and cheerleaders competing during breaks in the action as well, as it was a true community event. The crowds were so large that director Irwin Allen filmed the crowd at Vets in 1977 for his film, Viva Knievel.
Due to injuries and waning interest, the district canceled the event in 1989. Coaches had grown grumpy about the event, since scrimmages at that time weren’t allowed by the CIF-SS, meaning that each team had to count the Milk Bowl as one of its 10 contests for the season.
This year’s affair at Poly isn’t likely to draw five-figure attendance, but it could be the start of something new and special in Long Beach–and either way, it will harken back to a special piece of the city’s history.