Long Beach Poly has been to the CIF Southern Section football championship luncheon plenty of times over the last half-century, but haven’t made the short trip to the Grand in Long Beach since 2012. On Monday, the Jackrabbits made their return as they prepare to face St. Francis in the CIF-SS Division 4 championship game Saturday on the road at 7 p.m.
Head coach Stephen Barbee was joined by athletic director Rob Shock, principal William Salas, and senior captains Jalen Johnson, Donovan Poe, Wendell Moe, and Shea Kuykendall.
“This was great,” said Barbee. “There’s so much pageantry that goes along with making the championship–it was something I didn’t talk with the kids about up to this point. Being able to bring our captains here to have them experience it firsthand, seeing all the teams, listening to the speakers, it was exciting for them.”
Both Poe and Johnson come from Poly legacy families, and said they’ve been dreaming of an opportunity like this for a long time.
“We haven’t made one of these in a while, so it means a lot to be able to come here and represent Poly,” said Poe.
“Being a kid at the games watching Poly accomplish so many things, all I wanted was to be in that same situation,” said Johnson. “I have the chance to do that now, that’s something I’ve really wanted since I was 10 years old.”
Both players said the Jackrabbits aren’t taking anything for granted, even after blowing through the first three rounds of the playoffs, and said they were going to make sure practices were as sharp as they’ve been so far this postseason.
Barbee said he was pleased to not only see Poly, but two other Moore League teams in Jordan and Compton, as well as St. Anthony and former Poly coach Raul Lara in the building.
“We play very good football in Long Beach,” he said. “We’re rooting for all of them to go rep the city and bring some titles back home.”
Barbee said he felt grateful to continue to have the opportunity to practice with his team for another week, and that he was moved by CIF-SS historian John Dahlem mentioning that out of 300+ schools in the Southern Section, only 31 teams were left.
“It’s kind of eye-popping,” he said. “We’ve played ourselves into this moment, and we have the singular focus of continuing to get better.”