‘One Great Game' A Metaphor For Life


It's not often that really good books about high school football are penned.

"Friday Night Lights," written more than a decade ago, was a gem that highlighted the prep sport in the football-crazed state of Texas.

Another book almost equally as good has been authored by Don Wallace.

"One Great Game" is a spellbinding account of the first-ever national championship high school football game.

The clash, which most considered to be an impossibility, was played Oct. 6, 2001 when two California high schools, Concord De La Salle and Long Beach Poly met for the mythical national title.

The schools entered the game ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in ESPN, Fox Sports Fab 50, the Dick Butkus Football Network and USA Today polls.

In writing the book, Wallace --n award-winning journalist and ex-high school football player -- spent a full year looking into the hearts, minds and souls of the coaches, teachers, parents and players.

As much as the book is about high school football, it's also about the contrasting cultures of the two schools.

Long Beach Poly is a mostly poor, Southern California public high school that draws a wide diversity of students including African-Americans, Samoans, Hawaiians, Hispanics, Cambodians and Tongans. The school probably has the most diverse student body in America.

Poly also sends more players to the NFL than any high school in California. Among its celebrated alumni are Cameron Diaz, John Wayne and Snoop Dogg.

De La Salle is an elite private Catholic school located in the wealthy, high-tech suburb of Concord. The school is nearly all white and holds the nation's longest winning streak of 113 games. Under coach Bob Ladoceur, the Spartans have attained excellence primarily due to a year-round training program.

Some call the football program a "cult."

The two schools clearly represent the opposite ends of America's socio-economic cultures.

Wallace is astute enough to cleverly point out a myth that exists in high school football -- that parochial school players have some sort of edge in intelligence over public school athletes.

A coach is quoted in the book as saying "The only way to beat Poly is to make them think."

The story surrounding the game also has political overtones. When Proposition 13 was passed in California in 1976, it rocked the state's public school system and led to the elimination of many extracurricular programs.

Private and parochial schools like De La Salle benefited from Prop 13 in that they were able to carefully screen prospective students.

At some schools, only the wealthiest and most privileged were accepted.

Wallace writes, private and parochial schools chose their students, "feeling no responsibilities to the unprepared, the unparented, the unruly, the physically or mentally challenged, the migrant or the poor. Furthermore, private institutions could skim the cream of the crop of local athletes."

For me, that statement is the book's most dramatic.

On the opposite end of the education spectrum, public schools -- like Long Beach Poly -- must accept and educate a wide diversity of students. By law, the school cannot pick and choose only the finest students as parochial and private schools sometimes do.

The public vs. private controversy makes the showdown for the national crown more than just a battle for gridiron supremacy.

The game is a metaphor of life.

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