One Great Game: Two Teams, Two Dreams, in the First Ever National Championship High School Football Game
For more than a century, no Number 1 and Number 2 high schoolfootball team had ever met -- until October 6, 2001
One Great Game
This is the story of two teams -- Concord De La Salle, a private Catholic school in an upscale Northern California suburb, and Long Beach Poly, a proud public institution from a blue-collar SoCal seaport -- striving to achieve the same goal: the all-American dream.
In this supercharged account of the first-ever national high-school championship game, acclaimed sports journalist -- and former Poly varsity football player -- Don Wallace goes out onto the field and straight into the heart of each team. One Great Game offers a rare look at the world of young-adult sportsmanship, featuring up-close and personal interviews with the team players and their families, coaches and cheerleaders, rabid fans and sworn enemies. The result is a powerful piece of sports literature in the tradition of the classic Friday Night Lights. More than a book about football, One Great Game is an engaging cultural history about twenty-first-century American life.
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‘The First Ever (Mythical) High School National Championship Football Game’
If you remember and enjoyed the lettered style of Hayward Hale Broun’s TV sports pieces, it’s a bet you’ll like the writing style in Don Wallace’s ‘One Great Game’. He’s not so over the top as Broun, but his prose style brims with lyrical language, smart allusions and penetrating social reflection.
‘One Great Game’ follows the millennial arc of the first ever ‘mythical’ National Championship Game between the number one and two high school football teams in the country. The one-two rankings were determined by prep football polls – so to say ‘mythical’ is okay. Polls are polls, especially when you consider there are over 40 thousand high school football teams in the country.
Powerhouse team number one, according to the USA Today Top 25 Prep Poll (2001), was De La Salle, a Concord, California parochial. Concord is a commuting community on the pastoral edge of the Bay Area above Oakland. And with the exception of a few talented athletes, the De La Salle (DLS) student body is 98 percent white and capital ‘C’ Catholic of course. Also, and more than in passing, it should be noted that DSL was on a 116 game win streak then, the longest in prep football history then too.
The number two team in the country was about as opposite from the DLS Spartans as it is possible to get. Long Beach Polytechnical (LBP) was a southern California prep steamroller, an ethnic Tower of Babel of over 4500 students in the middle of one of the most ‘diverse’ urban centers in America.
It hadn’t been too long ago that LBP suffered from a brutal reputation, honestly come by in the late ‘60’s due in part to the neighboring Watts’ race riots in ‘67. In fact the school got so bad during the crack-cocaine wars of the early ‘70’s, that gangbangers and bystanders alike were getting permanently ventilated by Uzis, AK-47 and MAC 10 machine pistol fire. In fact I heard a morbid City of Angels morgue joke of that era that went like this: When an urban drug war soldier was brought in expired from multiple gun shot wounds, the cause of death would be listed as ‘LA Natural’ in pencil, then erased and ‘MBWs’ (multiple bullet wound(s)’ entered correctly in ink.
The author even mentions that players used to stop practicing and argue over which type of automatic weapon the shots they had just heard came from. At one point the Feds even threatened to take the school over from local authorities.
Then in the early ‘80’s a miracle happened and things started turning around. There were still the economically ill-starred African American and Central American Hispanic refugee students; the Vietnamese, Laotians and Hmong too, having landed at the immigration induction center in Long Beach. Also complicating the student body mix was another constituency; the kids of casually educated roughneck oil field workers (all white) that worked the Signal Hill wells, not exactly harmonious exemplars of tolerance.
Then, seemingly from nowhere young bookworms began showing up at LBP in droves, signing up for so many AP classes that offerings had to be expanded. These middle-class kids were sons and daughters of engineers and scientists from the new high-tech firms that were moving onto the edges of the Long Beach school district, (e. g. Lockheed cum Boeing Aerospace, etc.).
By 2001 LBP was no longer the old ‘diversity dystopia’ as the author called it, the school having come full circle. It even got itself voted the ‘most honored high school’ in California! ‘Honors’ not only for its traditional arena of excellence, athletics, but also for its successful arts program and stand out academic achievement too.
But even though Poly’s reputation in 2001 was very different from what it had once been, the prep sports writing industry went Jerry Springer and Damon Runyon to hype the impending ‘Big Game’.
It was ‘White versus Black’; ’Day versus Night’; ‘Right versus Left