It was almost the end of an era for San Gabriel Valley football fans …

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.

  • Bulldogs have bite

    I said this on Fred’s blog and I will say it here. Kudos to West Covina for stepping up to the plate in keeping this SGV tradition going.

    On the divider line being moved from the 605 fwy to Azusa Ave, this would put schools like West Covina, Bishop Amat, and Los Altos on the West team to go along with traditional West schools like Muir, St. Francis, and Monrovia. This might completely shift the scales to the West’s favor.

    The problem I’ve seen lately, and it’s actually kind of a good problem, is that players recently from Muir, Monrovia, Bishop Amat, Lost Altos, West Covina etc. are receiving big time D1 offers and are getting invitations to play in more prominent All-Star games, or not risking getting injured and declining to play because their future is secured, which is understandable.

    What we are left with are some very talented kids who have fallen through the cracks in the recruiting circles, which still makes fore some exciting games with kids who are there just to play and compete. Moving the game to January may actually elevate this game in prominence due to interests in scouts looking to find a few more pieces before the signing deadline. I’m glad this game is still going, lots of big names in the SGV have played this game and it wouldn’t feel right in the world without it.

    • apachejoe

      I like the date change as an Alumni of this game from the early 80s there was some serious talent that played in this game and several went on to play D1.. I for one was offered something out of this game however, the down side is we played in the summer so it was a little late..

  • AMAT 73

    Aram,
    Why not have this game rotate between SGV schools that can accomodate the crowd . Get the Trib to back it with some money as they do reap benefits from the local programs by advertising revenue from the blogs and papers . Maybe if each school that would participate could get concession revenue and as you mentioned , more participation from other players from all valley schools the game could grow . One year in the ESGV the next in the WSGV and make it manditory for at least 2 players from each SGV team by asked to play by the commitee who chooses the players . Maybe even have you ,Fred , and Steve be on the nominating commitee , since you guys do see most of the players up close though out the season .

    • AramT

      Yeah, no thank you. Helping out with the basketball all-star game is a big enough pain in itself. And I can only imagine how fun it would be to pick a 40-man roster for football teams and then deal with jilted parents and coaches. Beside that, just getting players picked and then riding them to actually show up for practice and play in games is a disaster. That doesn’t even mention the process of sending out nomination forms to coaches and then riding them to get them back. No Thanks!

      • reality

        You hit the nail right on the head. Players have to be enthusiastic about playing in an all-star game for it to be successful. Of late that has not been the case. Kids are apathetic about practice and want to be assured of playing time to show up. I laud Maggiore’s effort but for many the work and time involved is not worth the half-hearted results from the athletes. Players no longer look at these games as a reward for fine play and a chance to go up against the best. but more like a pick-up playground game with nothing invested. Even televised major high school all-star games are sparsely attended. Such are the times.

      • AMAT 73

        Sounds like it’s more a case of lack of wanting to participate by players then any other issues mentioned . I just thought since you said it would be a disaster to lose this game that you guys might want to help build it up back to something the valley players would look forward to participating in .

        • AramT

          Amat 73,

          Please don’t insinuate that the Tribune/Star-News should have ANY responsibility in building the game back up. Fact is, that ALL falls on the 1. the COACHES who have continually shunned coaching in it and/or haven’t followed thru with nominating their players and motivating them to play and 2. some PLAYERS for acting like they’re the world’s gifts to athletics AND 3. the GAME ORGANIZERS (i.e. those who actually profited) in the past for not changing with the times.

          Guys like me, Fred and Steve have several duties and other things to cover in addition to this game. We HELP put on an all-star game for hoops but the logistics of that are set up by the game organizers. We simply help pick teams and stay on the players to show up, practice and play. And believe me, that’s getting real old.

          • AMAT 73

            Aram,
            Thanks for the insight on the game . It seems the game will eventually fall by the wayside , either from lack of player participation or coaches . If you have to prod players to be at practice and have difficulty finding coaches , then your fighting a losing battle . Also add that in this day and age of parent driven success for athletes who will move on to college, they might not want to take the risk of injury in a local all star game .

  • TruTH

    There might be different options to make this game more competitive. For example the way in which the NFL has changed the Pro Bowl in which there would be a pool of players from the east and west SGV. The coaches that are chosen would then take turns drafting players making the rosters some what more equal.