Local high school football fans will never know how close the San Gabriel Valley came to losing the annual East-West all-star game. Actually, they will because I’m about to tell you.
As of last Sunday, the game was pretty much off. The reason? The National Football Foundation decided that because of insurance issues it will no longer be attached in any way, shape or form to the game … or any all-star game anywhere for that matter.
To put that in a local perspective, the game that so many of the Valley’s former prep football greats once played in was almost dead after 34 years of providing our top football talent with final sendoff in front of their family and friends. What a disgusting thought.
Enter Mike Maggiore and West Covina High School. Maggiore, the current Bulldogs head coach who played in the game in 1985, saved the day along with the powers-that-be at West Covina. That’s right, somehow a school district, of all things, was able to secure insurance so that the game could go on. And it will, on May 16 at West Covina at 7 p.m.
How ironic, a school district was able to reach a confidence level regarding insurance that an entity that calls itself “The National Football Foundation” could not. What a joke. But anybody who has been following the demise of the prep all-star game concept in recent years isn’t surprised.
Fact is, the East-West all-star game was heading down a slippery slope into oblivion that most high school all-star games find themselves on before eventually flickering out.
Remember the now-defunct Shrine Game? Remember how that one used to be played before gigantic crowds at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before eventually barely being able to fill up the parking lot at Citrus College for its last few installments?
Well, those who thought that could never happen to the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame East-West All-Star Game were quite wrong. It’s easy to point to the game organizers when looking for blame. After all, the game was supposed to pit the area’s best talent from BOTH sides of the Valley against each other. But that’s rarely happened in several years.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. Some local football coaches have lost touch with the game. Game organizers were often anything but organized. Some players were less than interested in playing while others treated it like the biggest honor in the world.
To look down at the roster in certain recent years and not see players from Bishop Amat, St. Francis or Muir was a flat-out joke. The answers were never clear from either side when asked how this could happen, but it doesn’t really matter because the fact is player participation from the Valley’s flagship programs should simply be a given.
Another flaw is that the games have become increasingly uncompetitive with the East now working on a six-game winning streak and most of the scores in that streak blowouts. Organizers have tried to no avail to balance things out. But if no Muir or St. Francis kids are playing for the West in certain years, then it doesn’t really matter how many players you pull from non-Valley schools like Garfield and Lincoln?
The good news is that Maggiore understands all of that and has some great ideas to change things. First, starting next year and going forward, the game will likely be played in January. The thinking is that more players have incentive to play because it’s a final showcase for recruiters before signing day. It also doesn’t hurt that in terms of conditioning and mindset, January is much closer to the end of the football season than June.
Second, the borders are likely to change. What divided the Valley into East and West in the past has been the 605 Freeway. Maggiore is going to propose that the dividing line is changed to Azusa Avenue. If that doesn’t make things more competitive, then nothing will.
It’s too bad it’s come to this. It’s too bad that one of the best events on the Valley sports calendar had to recently be plucked off of life support. But maybe in the end it will be a good thing.
One of my fondest memories from the East-West game came in 2005 when on the first play of the game, West Covina’s Walter Thurmond III landed a jarring hit on Blair’s Sean Smith on a pass out of the backfield. Both players are now in the NFL. Those types of moments need to keep being added to the Valley ledger.
The National Football Foundation’s loss will hopefully be the Valley’s gain. This might just be the seam that local coaches burst through to get back involved in the game and make sure their players do the same so that future memories and one final showcase of talent for the athletes who have given so much can thrive for future generations to come.