Don Norford
Long Beach Poly Track & Field

COLUMN: Long Beach Needs To Honor Norford, Allice

Photo by Stephen Carr

Last month’s announcement that the new Long Beach Main Library would be named in honor of Billie Jean King got me thinking: what else out there is in need of a name? Or, to look at it from a better angle, who else out there is deserving of a major honor?

A few names immediately sprung to mind, and I’ll make things very easy on the Long Beach Unified School District and its Board of Education by proposing these fine folks be honored at the same facility, to cut down on mileage for ribbon-cuttings. 

Long Beach Poly is home to a beautiful brand new all-weather track and turf stadium, with new stands set to open for the start of the school year. The field there was dedicated in the 1920s for Poly principal David Burcham, a man who was principal there from 1907 to 1941, and who helped establish many of the fine traditions that exist there today. But while the field is named for Burcham, the oval around it is un-dedicated.

I suggest Poly name it the Ron Allice Track, in honor of one of the finest coaches to ever come out of the city.

Allice is a Poly grad who coached at Poly, Compton, Wilson, and Long Beach State, then won 11 state titles in 16 years at LBCC, and then went on to a Hall of Fame career at USC. Allice’s Trojans won an NCAA team title and he coached 32 individual NCAA champions and more than 40 Olympians. His work with the Long Beach Comets in the 1960s was one of the main reasons Long Beach was ready to hit the ground running when Title IX was passed in the early 70s–coach Allice had already been giving world-class instruction to the city’s female competitors.

Allice, who is in the United States Track & Field Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame and about a dozen other Halls of Fame, including at least three in the city, has spent the last few years making sure that other people received honors–he helped get renamings done at Long Beach State and at Franklin Middle School. It’s time coach Allice got his recognition as well.

Now having the field named for Burcham and the track named for Allice would be wonderful. But it would also leave room for the biggest no-brainer out there: naming the whole facility the Don and Carol Norford Stadium.

Simply put, Don Norford is the most accomplished coach in California high school sports history. At Poly he won 18 state titles and 25 CIF-SS titles as a head track coach, and was an assistant with the football team for 38 years, coaching a dozen CIF championship teams and 45 future NFL players, and becoming the only assistant ever to be named NFL High School Coach of the Year.

According to Cal-Hi Sports editor and California high school sports historian Mark Tennis, “Nobody else in the state is even close to what Don Norford accomplished at Poly.”

To put those numbers in perspective: no other high school in California has won 18 state titles, and the entire rest of the LBUSD high schools combined don’t have that many. If you add up the CIF-SS titles won by all of the coaches that the LBUSD’s football fields and gyms are presently named after, they would not add up to the number of track titles Norford coached at Poly Poly. He coached 61 individual state champions and 150 individual CIF-SS champs for the Jackrabbits. 

Beyond just the hardware, Norford also served as a mentor to countless students, and Don and Carol’s home became a place that troubled kids knew they could escape to when they needed a hot meal or a safe place to stay.

There aren’t many facilities at Poly named after people, and I know that the district policy is typically to wait until someone has passed on before giving them such an honor. But I’ll never forget Ron Massey thanking North Long Beach for naming the Jordan gym after him, saying, “Thank you for giving me my roses while I can smell them.” Massey passed away unexpectedly not that long after.

Just as the Long Beach community came together to make sure Andy Osman received his applause in person with the renaming of Poly’s auditorium in the Spring, I would hope that the community, the district, and the school board can make sure that the Norfords and Allice get to take a bow as well.

Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.