The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Poly alum Jayon Brown and PlayFair Sports Management.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by JuJu Smith-Schuster and the JuJu Foundation.
The storied Long Beach Poly football program is set to make history as the Jackrabbits have added a girls’ flag football team to compete starting next month. The Jackrabbits are one of 16 pilot programs that will compete in the League of Champions this year alongside Serra, Redondo Union, Inglewood, and others. The CIF Southern Section passed a proposal earlier today to establish girls’ flag football as an official CIF-SS-wide sport in the Fall starting next school year.
The initiative is part of a co-sponsored initiative by the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers to help grow the sport of football, and will also increase playing opportunities in the country’s most popular sport. The Rams and Chargers are co-sponsors of this Fall’s League of Champions, which will officially get underway in October.
The Jackrabbits began practice this week, and Poly football coach Stephen Barbee is going to coach the girls’ team along with Poly boys’ athletic director Rob Shock.
“This is a very transformational thing for these young ladies to be out here in front of this,” said Barbee. “They play in junior high and elementary school and it’s great for these girls to be able to say I want to come to Poly and play flag football. The athletes and the teams we’re pulling from, there’s an awesome amount of athleticism.”
Poly’s team is made up mostly of athletes from other sports programs on campus, with soccer, basketball, track, swimming, water polo, and softball players all coming out to make up the team.
One of those players, Poly soccer player Misha Hebert, said she’s excited to have a chance to play.
“I’ve always wanted to play flag football, I was asking my mom in elementary school but it was an all-boys’ team,” said Hebert. “Shock told us at orientation this year and me and my friends all stared at each other like, ‘This is our time. We have to do it.’”
Barbee said he was happy to volunteer to coach the team and help get the program off the ground. Poly held its first practices this week with more than 30 girls showing up–he told them that nobody will be cut or left off the team this year.
“It’s kind of a soft opening and they’re all so excited about it, they were out here having a blast,” he said. “We’ve got talent, too. We look forward to more teams being able to join us next year.”
Hebert said she appreciated the fact that Barbee and Shock were the ones who stepped up to help out.
“It’s pretty cool to have coach Barbee, he obviously has so much experience, he’s the definition of Long Beach Poly coaching which makes it extra exciting for us,” she said. “We’ve had support from the school and from Nike giving us jerseys–there’s something about being the first school in Long Beach that’s great, too. I’m glad other schools will get to start up next year too with it being a CIF sport.”
It’s fitting for Poly to be trailblazing on the cutting edge. The Jackrabbits football program is well known for its success on the field–Poly has produced more NFL players than any other school in the country, won 20 CIF-SS titles, and is only two wins away from grabbing California’s all-time wins lead.
But Poly also has a history of breaking down barriers, too. The team was racially integrated in the 1920s and had a black quarterback in the early 1930s. Poly has also been on the cutting edge of gender access too, with Poly kicker Killian Turley one of the first girls to score a varsity point in Southern California when she converted an extra point for the Jackrabbits in 2013. Poly currently has a girl kicking on its frosh-soph team as well.
With girls’ flag football set to become an official sport, there are the usual concerns, mostly about overuse. Hebert is currently training daily with her club soccer team and will be in season with the Poly girls’ soccer team for part of the flag football season. But she said that for she and her teammates, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“There was no way we could say no to this–everyone wants to play and everyone wants to win,” she said.