This week, The562’s coverage is sponsored by Long Beach Gives. Visit LongBeachGives.org to find your cause! Donations will be accepted through Sept. 22.
The562’s coverage of Cabrillo Athletics is sponsored by the Cohn Family.
This week I experienced the most pain I’ve ever felt sitting at a keyboard, typing away in my otherwise pretty cushy job as a sportswriter. I was putting together The562.org’s weekly high school football standings, and I had to make a difficult switch: taking Cabrillo’s 4-0 record and making it 0-4 with an asterix that read “Cabrillo’s record includes the forfeit of four on-field wins.”
Those forfeits came as part of the school’s self-reported use of an ineligible player, a 13 year-old freshman who hadn’t met the age requirement of being at least 14 years old. The rule is in place as a safety precaution meant to protect the player in question, not to protect the opposing team. There’s no conceivable way anyone could say that the Jaguars got a competitive advantage from the player playing, which is what made it extra painful to see those wins come off the board.
The other thing that made it hurt was knowledge of what those wins on the field represented. Two years ago, Cabrillo didn’t have a football team–they didn’t have enough players on the roster to field a team in the Spring COVID-19 season. The players at the school could have all had a free transfer out to any school they wanted to go to, by CIF-SS rule–if a school drops football its players are allowed to seek greener pastures.
Head coach Shane Gonzales didn’t leave–he asked his administration to support him as he tried to rally the troops and get more kids to join the football team. In 2021, Gonzales’ Jaguars were able to field a team, and to play every game on the schedule except for their contest against Poly. The Jags won just one game, but I wrote at the time that seeing that one victory and the way it was celebrated was worth almost as much as a CIF-SS championship.
Well this year, the Jags got even better. The returning players from last season added weight, experience, and more knowledge of the game, since many of them had started playing football in high school. Gonzales added bodies not just on the field but on the sideline, as he recruited local alums to help build the Westside program.
And build it they did, with a 4-0 start that represented the best start in the history of the program. Everywhere we went, coaches wanted to talk about how proud they were of Shane and the Jags–they became Long Beach’s unofficial team.
Of course, the way the team celebrated its wins didn’t get erased when the standings box changed. Neither did the way the Westside and the rest of the city rallied around their inspirational Cinderella story, rebounding from near non-existence to a historic start. And, I hope most of all, neither did the feeling each of those players had in their chest when they learned that tough people can outlast tough times–that by working hard and staying strong they bettered their circumstances.
There’s more money in high school football than there used to be, more media and more spotlights and more transfers, too. But there are also still lessons that are best learned on the football field. So while the Cabrillo standings might not look the way the team–or I–want them to, there’s still those lessons, and that joy that the Jaguars earned this year. Nothing can take that away from them.