The small but gradual decline in football participation is beginning to have an impact on even the nation’s most powerful programs. That was made very plain when Long Beach Poly, the California power that dueled for national supremacy in the 1990s and 2000s, announced it was dropping its junior varsity team for the first time in school history.
The Jackrabbits made the announcement to the Long Beach Press-Telegram Wednesday evening, with Poly head coach and Super Bowl champion Antonio Pierce citing a significant decline in overall football participation as the primary reason for the elimination of Poly’s junior varsity team.
“The last three years our number has consistently gone down, and we’ve had enrollment issues,” Pierce told the Press-Telegram. “Six years ago when my son enrolled they had 130 freshman in that class, and we haven’t had close to that number since.
“It’s sad. I don’t have another word for it. It’s sad.”
Long Beach Poly will reportedly field 60 players on the varsity team this year, a full number but a far cry from the 200 annual sign-ups the program boasted in the 1990s.
According to Pierce the school is also struggling to retain Long Beach families who would traditionally send their children to the program. Some of them have left the school district, while others are being siphoned to other schools, per Pierce. That doesn’t mean they would automatically have potential football players, but keeping them away ensures they can’t be future Jackrabbits.
Regardless of external factors, the elimination of a junior varsity program is still a stunning turn for a program that has contributed more players to the NFL than any other, one of whom is now back in Long Beach trying to figure out how to solve Poly’s new, surprising dilemma.