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Column Football Long Beach Poly

COLUMN: Should Long Beach Poly Football Be in the Moore League?

The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by JuJu Smith-Schuster and the JuJu Foundation.

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.

The Long Beach Poly football team is ranked No. 22 in the nation and has outscored its Moore League opponents 203-6 over the first four weeks of the league schedule. The Jackrabbits haven’t lost a league game on the field since 2009 and prior to that season hadn’t lost one since 1994–they’ve lost just eight league games since 1980. In the last six and a half years, Poly has outscored its league opponents 1,836-161, an average score of 50-4.

Why is Poly in the Moore League? It was a founding member of the league in 1957, and along with Wilson, Millikan, Lakewood, and Jordan it’s been a core member of the league for 65 years. The league is administered by the Long Beach Unified School District, a rare setup for a CIF-SS league, and as such has enjoyed relatively incomparable stability in terms of its membership

I’m a sports history buff and knowledgeable about the history of football in Long Beach. But as I watched Poly beat Cabrillo 49-0 last Friday in a game with a running clock from the start of the second quarter, I wondered to myself, “Who is this good for?” I had the same thought watching Poly beat Wilson 70-0 the week before. Is this good for Poly? Is this good for Wilson, Cabrillo, and the rest of the league? Or should the Moore League join with so many other CIF-SS leagues in recent years and reconsider its membership?

First, let’s consider from Poly’s perspective. The Jackrabbits are 8-0 and on their way to their first undefeated regular season since 2008. But due to the Moore League’s poor ratings in the CalPreps rankings, they’re in danger of dropping down from No. 4 over the next two weeks, and having to start the playoffs on the road. Under this new playoff format with its heavy emphasis on strength of schedule, it will be hard for them to ever secure a top ranking while in the Moore League.

There are also lots of arguments to be made that it’s hard to prepare for first-round games against Los Alamitos or St. John Bosco or Mater Dei while playing a league schedule that’s going to produce at least three or four running clocks a year. Poly coach Stephen Barbee is a sportsmanship-oriented coach, but he’s acknowledged it’s hard to build much depth when the backups might get one or two drives in the entire second half.

There are plenty of benefits to being in the league for Poly, both emotionally and competitively. For one, the rivalries are a lot of fun–it means more (to Poly and to the city) when Millikan, Wilson, or Lakewood are good enough to give the Jackrabbits a game than it would for Edison or another nearby public school. 

There’s an upside to the lack of competitiveness too–Poly gets six weeks where they can try to get healthy and spend a lot of time working on themselves and technique before the playoffs, with game results rarely in doubt. Plenty of teams who’ve limped into the playoffs out of tough league schedules would appreciate that kind of opportunity, even if it is admittedly hard to motivate high school players week in and week out when they’re assuming they’ll blow their opponents out for the 15th consecutive time.

Now, the drawbacks and benefits to the rest of the Moore League.

The drawbacks are fairly obvious. It’s not a lot of fun to get your butt kicked, or have players nervous about playing a game on Friday all week. The new CIF-SS playoff format at least means the rest of the league can dream of winning a CIF-SS championship now that they’re no longer pulled up into Division 1 with Poly–but realistically a team only has an actual shot at beating Poly for a league title on the field every decade or so.

There are plenty of benefits, of course. When a team does beat Poly, it’s an event. Wilson’s Jinx Busters team that beat Poly in 1943 is still talked about, as are the Lakewood and Millikan teams who beat the Jackrabbits in 2009–plenty of alums from that Millikan team have told me that win meant more to them than a CIF-SS championship would have.

There’s also an excitement and buzz that comes with having a big game against Poly. Millikan and Wilson both sold their home games against the Jackrabbits out this year, and the scene in the stands was fun and festive. When a team like the Rams or Bruins is good enough to give the Jackrabbits a title fight, the energy all season leading up to the game is unparalleled, in part because of the deep history.

Ultimately, to me, the tradition and the history that we have in Long Beach weighs out over the competitive advantages to Poly and the rest of the league were the Jackrabbits to depart. I think almost every argument I’ve heard in favor of or against a split are correct but for me, I hope we keep Long Beach’s best team in Long Beach.

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.