- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
If you cruise down Atlantic Avenue on the west side of Long Beach, Calif., past the Goodwill shop, the carniceria and panaderia, the liquor stores and churches, past the beauty parlor specializing in hair weaves, you eventually come to the imposing edifice of Long Beach Polytechnic High. For as long as anyone can remember, the school slogan has been emblazoned above the front entrance in bold green lettering: Home of Scholars & Champions. Given the gritty surroundings, which have been immortalized in the gangsta rap of alum Calvin Broadus, a.k.a. Snoop Dogg, this ethos seems like wishful thinking or clever p.r. Yet those words have a profound effect on the kids who pass beneath them.
"Oh, God, I loved that sign. I loved its message," says Billie Jean King, the tennis legend who graduated from Poly in 1961 (back when she was known as Billie Jean Moffitt). "Every morning I would pause in front of it and just breathe it in to remind me of my purpose. Whenever I'm back home in Long Beach, I drive by the school just to get a glimpse of it for inspiration."
"That sign is no joke," says Willie McGinest, the New England Patriots' two-time Pro Bowl linebacker and Poly class of '90. "Scholars & Champions is not just paint, man. It's been written in blood and sweat."
Champions? No doubt about that. Based on its across-the-board sports success over the last 10 years, Long Beach Poly has been chosen by SI as the high school with the nation's best overall athletic program, heading a top 25 made up of schools from 19 states (page 60). With apologies to USC, the Jackrabbits have the most celebrated football program in Southern California. Since 1996 Poly has gone undefeated three times and won five championships in the ferociously competitive California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section. (There is no state football tournament in California.) In the school's 110-year history four-dozen grads have gone on to the NFL, including eight who were on opening week rosters in 2004: McGinest, Oakland Raiders defensive back Marques Anderson, Arizona Cardinals running back Larry Croom, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Kareem Kelly, Cardinals quarterback Chris Lewis, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Samie Parker, New York Giants defensive back Omar Stoutmire and San Francisco 49ers defensive end Brandon Whiting. Poly has also produced NFL rookies of the year Mark Carrier, Leonard Russell and Gene Washington, the last of whom is now the league's director of Football Operations.
The track program hasn't turned out as many well-known names, but at the high school level it is even more dominant than the football squad, with the boys' and girls' teams having won a combined seven state titles since 1997. The girls' relay teams (4...100, 4...200 and 4...400) set seven national records during an 18-month stretch in 2003--04, led by junior Shana Woods, who also owns three national age-group records in the heptathlon. The basketball teams aren't bad either. In March the girls won the CIF southern section, powered by freshman Jasmine Dixon, a 5'10" guard whom Poly principal Shawn Ashley refers to as "this school's next franchise athlete." The boys' team had won 71 straight Moore League games before falling to Long Beach Jordan in January. At Poly, losing transcends disappointment and produces something closer to shame. The day after the hoops streak ended, senior guard Chris Peys says, "I didn't want to come to school. I put my hood up and beelined to class. It's like not only did we let the whole student body down, we also let down their parents who went to Poly, their brothers who went to Poly, their cousins...."
Of course football, basketball and track are the kinds of sports at which a big, urban school might be expected to excel, but Poly is also a powerhouse in the country club games. The boys' golf team went undefeated in the league last year, and the boys' tennis team has been to the CIF section finals two years in a row. Even the cross-country and badminton teams kick serious butt, each having won three straight league titles.
But what is all the more remarkable about Poly is that many of the athletes really are scholars, just as the sign says. Senior Pat Traughber, the No. 2 player on the boys' golf team, is currently taking four advanced-placement courses (calculus, chemistry, statistics, and English), yet his 1,380 on the SAT wasn't even the highest score on his team. The star of the badminton squad is junior Samantha Jinadasa, who carries a 3.7 GPA ("unweighted," she points out) with a schedule that includes calculus and three other AP classes. In her minimal free time she is part of a biomedical-research program, working with doctors at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles studying methods to improve the success rate of kidney transplants. Oh, by the way, last March Jinadasa finished second at the Pan Am Games, competing in mixed doubles with her brother Nick, a 2003 Poly grad.
"Is it cool to be a badminton player at Poly? Definitely--as long as you win," Jinadasa says. "It doesn't matter what you do here as long as you do it well. We're proud of our mathletes [academic competitors], we're proud of our band. The things that aren't cool at other high schools are looked at differently here because they achieve tremendous success."
At Poly even the football stars play against type. Senior wideout Desean Jackson was the Los Angeles Times's player of the year in 2004, thanks to his game-breaking elusiveness and leadership skills, which propelled a young team to the CIF championship. Yet the most impressive line on his r�sum� might be his 1,280 on the SAT. Having spurned USC, Oklahoma, Florida and LSU, Jackson will suit up in the fall for Cal, drawn in part by the vibrant academic environment in Berkeley.
Jackson, whose older brother Byron played for the Chiefs in 1993, is one of seven players from this year's team to have earned Division I-A scholarships, which is slightly lower than usual, as typically a dozen or so Jackrabbits score full rides in any given year. "Coming from Poly, you're more attractive to colleges because they know you can handle the schoolwork too," says McGinest, who was a B student in high school before going on to become an All-America and earn a degree in public administration at USC. To keep its football players on track, Poly has study halls with an emphasis on preparing for the SAT and meeting NCAA academic requirements. Every six weeks players must give their tutors a progress report, which is prepared by one of their teachers and covers grades and attitude.