STORY BY: BRIANNA WEINSTEIN
Underrated and underfunded, Long Beach high school athletic programs are often overlooked when compared directly to the more prominent schools within Orange County and Los Angeles County.
With run-down facilities, crumbling infrastructure, and underfunded programs, the athletes of Long Beach high schools have to make-do with very little. Even district officials acknowledge that their facilities are in desperate need of renovations, however, it’s simply not a feasible option when funding for academics is already spread thin as it is.
Nevertheless, there is something to be said about the passion and commitment that comes from the coaches and players both on and off the field. When you take a closer look, these athletic programs have produced many notable athletes.
Former Jackrabbit, Jayon Brown, looks back on his high school career at Long Beach Polytechnic High School with fond memories. He believes that his time at Poly played a pivotal role in achieving his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL as a linebacker for the Tennessee Titans.
Once declared the sports school of the century in 2005 by Sports Illustrated for sending more players to the NFL than any other high school in the nation, Long Beach Poly is most notable for their football program.
“The competitiveness and drive among my teammates was ridiculously high,” says Brown. “We competed at everything from weight lifting, field jumping, running, you name it. And honestly, I think that’s why we’re so good.”
“Our work ethic was unparalleled by any other program,” he said.
Other schools in the district such as Lakewood and Wilson have also produced their fair share of professional athletes. They are known to excel in sports such as water polo and swim, and in the spring, their baseball teams never disappoint.
Former Lakewood Lancer, J.P. Crawford, says that the close-knit community and love for the game of baseball is what he admires most about his alma mater. Crawford graduated from Lakewood High School, and went straight to the minors when he was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the first round of the 2013 MLB draft.
“The thing about Lakewood baseball is that we grew up playing together,” Crawford said. “That bond is something that you can’t make up, and I think that’s why we played so well together. We were always ready to grind it out and give it our all.”
Crawford has since moved up the ranks of the minor league system, and is now the starting shortstop for the Phillies.
Another Long Beach native now playing in the MLB is Chase De Jong, a pitcher for the Seattle Mariners. De Jong says that playing for Wilson prepared him so well for a professional career, he didn’t even find it necessary to play at the collegiate level when he was drafted in the 2012 MLB draft.
“Moore League is, and always will be, a high quality prep baseball league,” De Jong says. “It's a proven system that has produced many other and more accomplished major leaguers like Aaron Hicks, Mike Carp, Jonathan Singleton and even Hall of Famer, Bob Lemon, just to name a few.”
Needless to say, despite a lack of funding, the athletic programs are simply astounding, and the talent that Long Beach high school athletic programs consistently produce prove to be inspiration for future generations.
“Don’t let adversity get you down,” says Brown. “Everything you are given in life is meant to teach you a lesson, and the coaches I’ve had have shown me that.”
“You create your own story,” Brown said.