The 2010-11 sports year was an impressive one, to say the least, for Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, Calif. The Jackrabbits won three California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section titles--in boys' basketball, girls' volleyball, and girls' track and field--and took home CIF state championships in boys' and girls' track and field.
Poly's girls' track and field team ended the season ranked first nationally in the Powerade Fab 50, while boys' track finished second, girls' volleyball was 11th, girls' basketball was 12th, and boys' basketball ended up 17th. So it should come as no surprise that the Jackrabbits finished first overall in the final 2010-11 Fab 50 All-Sports rankings.
What is the secret to the athletic department's success? "The atmosphere here is unbelievable," says Athletic Director Rob Shock, adding that upwards of 40 Poly student-athletes earned college scholarships this past year. "It's created by a huge sense of pride the kids feel for the school and the support they receive."
The pride comes from a long history of athletic achievements. Poly has won 32 state titles, which is double the total of the second-place school, and it has won twice as many Southern Section team titles than any other school. It has also graduated more football players to the NFL than any other high school in the country--including athletes such as DeSean Jackson, Marcedes Lewis, and Willie McGinest. Other graduates include Billie Jean King, Tony Gwynn, Chase Utley, and Tyus Edney.
"The history sets the tone for what these kids want to achieve and why they come to Poly," Shock says. "When a student-athlete attends our school, he or she knows of the department's winning ways and is motivated to create their own legacy. They work incredibly hard to be successful academically and athletically."
Just as important is the support student-athletes receive from administrators, teachers, and coaches. "If you go to a baseball game here, you'll likely see the basketball and football coaches in the stands," Shock says. "It's about understanding that we're all here for the kids.
"As athletic director, I try to be very supportive and visible to everyone," he continues. "I observe practices and go to games, and make sure the athletes know they're supported. It's important for the kids to see that everyone buys into athletics here."
Alumni support--from both professional athletes and community members--has also been key. "Willie McGinest comes back often and is accessible in our community," Shock says. "Marcedes Lewis does a camp. DeSean Jackson visits and speaks to the kids. Our current students can look at these guys and say, 'Wow, they used to go here. Hopefully one day I can be as successful as they are.'
"I've found that people want to stay involved and stay active because they have such a sense of pride in the school," he continues. "I graduated from Poly, and even if I wasn't the athletic director, I would still go to games and support the program."
Due to its tremendous success, Poly receives a great deal of attention from the media--the football team was the subject of a nationally televised documentary this past season--and athletes perform under a microscope. Shock believes this has been a positive instead of a negative.
"It helps foster the development of our kids, because they're participating at such a high level," he says. "When they arrive at Poly, the expectation is that they will be successful. They know what they're getting into. They know they're going to be under a microscope. That's what the kids thrive on.
"Coaches make sure that the competition in practice raises the kids' skill level up to a very competitive level," Shock continues. "Our student-athletes know they always have to perform."
However, being named the best high school athletic program in the country doesn't mean that Poly is shielded from the harsh realities of the economy. Like other schools in California, it has been forced to work extra hard to make up for budget deficits to keep the program running at full speed.
"We've had to get creative," Shock says. "We've talked with sponsors about coming in and helping with the program--not sponsoring a team, but maybe getting us a good deal on uniforms and things like that. Of course, having a good connection with alumni who can make donations is a big help.
"Every team is out there trying to fundraise--doing car washes, holding dinners, and things like that," he continues. "Coaches have to fundraise and coach. I'd love for them just to coach, but that's not the world we live in."