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New lights for football illuminate a more important change at Jordan High

Eric Sondheimer
Contact ReporterVarsity Times Insider

Something historic is happening on Friday night in Watts.

Jordan High will play its first home football game at night against neighborhood rival Verbum Dei. Kickoff is 7:30.

“It feels amazing,” freshman Jason Salado said this week. “I’ve never seen the lights. They’ve never turned them on.”

Jordan, which opened in 1923, never had lights at its football field until now.

“Wow,” said James Washington, a 1982 Jordan graduate who won two Super Bowls playing for the Dallas Cowboys. “I remember day games. Teams were scared to come play us in day time.”

Times have changed. Nearby South East High routinely plays night football games.

“I always wanted to play night games,” former Jordan coach Elijah Asante said. “I thought it was crazy we were playing day games and everyone night games. This is an historic moment.”

Asante’s 2005 Jordan team was the last one to play Verbum Dei, an all-boys Catholic school located a mile away. NFL linebacker Akeem Ayers played for Verbum Dei. In 2008, Jordan was good enough to be playing Santa Ana Mater Dei in a nonleague game. Since then, the program has been pretty much in free fall.

There were winless seasons in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. It got to the point the team ran out of eligible players in 2015 and had to cancel the final two games of the season.

Enter Gary Parks, a Verbum Dei grad. He took over the Jordan program last season, had the team play eight-man football, and got the players studying to become eligible. Last week, the Bulldogs won their first 11-man game since the 2011 season, beating Keppel 44-20.

There’s now a daily 90-minute study hall for players. And come Friday, the community will get its first look at a refurbished football facility.

There’s an air-conditioned press box, new grass field, new goal posts, new bleachers, new scoreboard — and the lights.

“I think it’s cool,” lineman Sema’j Jones said. “I think it’s a special moment.”

To have a night game in Watts is big news, especially because of gang rivalries and past security concerns in the area. A school police spokesman said they are prepared to make sure fans “feel comfortable and safe.”

“This is an exciting time,” Parks said. “It represents pride, resiliency. It’s going to be a great night to let the community know they have a place where they can play on Friday nights and be excited about staying home in Watts.”

Jordan’s campus has gone through dramatic changes with new buildings and new education partnerships. Jordan is operated jointly by the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. There’s also a Green Dot school on campus, Animo College Prep Academy.

On the football team are players who live at the Jordan Downs housing project next to the school and others who live down the street at the Nickerson Gardens.

“We teach oneness,” Parks said.

In many ways, this game is important for the future of football in Southern California. At a time when numbers have been diminishing across the nation, getting schools like Jordan to regain a sense of pride in its football program is critical.

Parks notes that from Jordan’s school grounds, a person can look to the west and see housing projects and look to the east and find the uninspiring view of an aluminum recycling plant. “But if we look north,” he said, “we see downtown L.A. in the skyline. We try to focus on that skyline to say you know what, that’s where we want to be. … These kids are prideful and want change and want to be successful.”

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: latsondheimer

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