L.B. Wilson Has Tradition, Talent in Water Polo

Times Staff Writer

It’s about a five-minute drive to the Orange County line from Long Beach Wilson High School, a short eastward jaunt down Seventh Street, past Cal State Long Beach and onto the southbound San Diego Freeway.

Five minutes is also about the amount of time it took Greg Loos to pump in three quick goals and put the wraps on Lakewood High’s water polo team Halloween night in the Lakewood indoor pool, where the ghosts of Wilson teams--past and present--loom in the humid air. Lakewood is about five minutes from the county line, too, but it is years away when it comes to water polo. Lakewood lost to Wilson, 16-6.

All Los Angeles County seems overwhelmed by Wilson’s ghosts, as far as water polo goes. The last time the Wilson Bruins lost a Moore League game was Oct. 27, 1976, to Long Beach Poly.


Jimmy Carter was about to be elected President then, and Rick Jones was Poly’s coach. Carter now writes books on the Middle East, and Jones now coaches at Wilson, where his teams have won a 4-A title and finished no worse than fifth since he took over in the fall of 1977.

There is a curious riddle, though, one that follows few rules and makes little geographic sense. Jones can take his team many places, and has, but L.A. County just isn’t the place to be when it comes to water polo. Orange County, on the other hand, is.

If he goes north, Jones can schedule such teams as Redondo of Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach Mira Costa, both schools that have had legitimate programs over the years, but nothing now close to Wilson’s level.

If Jones takes his team south to Orange County, however, he gets No. 3-ranked Corona del Mar and No. 4-ranked Newport Harbor, not to mention Mission Viejo, El Toro, Foothill and Tustin, all schools with winning programs.

To the southeast, Jones gets Sunny Hills of Fullerton, No. 1-ranked, undefeated, winner three times this season over Wilson.

To the west, there is Long Beach’s Belmont Plaza, where Wilson will play Foothill, another Orange County power, at 3 p.m. today in the first round of the Southern Section 4-A playoffs.


The No. 2-seeded Bruins (20-4) are the only L.A. County team with any real hope of advancing in the playoffs and possibly meeting Sunny Hills in the final.

“I think one of the reasons (for success) is the quality of athletes we have at Wilson,” Jones said. “Also, we have a total program at Wilson. We don’t emphasize water polo over swimming or vice versa. We had 107 kids sign up for water polo and swimming this year.”

John Cordes, a senior starter for Wilson, thinks that water polo still isn’t really established in L.A. County. “They (L.A. County schools) haven’t been into it for as long,” he said. “Just like it’s moving back east, it’s moving up here from O.C.”

So, while the rest of L.A. County awaits the true arrival of water polo, Wilson must head south.

Is Wilson considered an outsider in Orange County?

“Oh, no,” Cordes said. “We’re just like any other school down there. The only thing is that sometimes it seems like the refs are against us. It seems like they are prejudiced against us sometimes.”

Jones said: “You try to think that stuff like that doesn’t happen. The players get along fine. The players get along because they respect each other.”


Senior Skip Bayless, explaining Wilson’s domination of Lakewood, pointed to teammates Cordes, Tom Sanford and Luis Guzman, and said: “We’ve spent like our whole lives together. . . . We’ve played together and traveled together.”

Sanford agreed: “Yeah, we spend almost all of our time together outside (of water polo), too,” he said. “It’s kind of like a Wilson tradition.”

Considering that the Bruins practice three to four hours a day during the fall season, then swim during the spring and play summer-league water polo, it’s hard not to become close.

“You’ve got to remember that these kids work out a hell of a lot,” Jones said. “We’re constantly into water polo.”

Wilson also has seniors Jon Swerdloff and Ben Knight in the field, and goalie Scott Guyette.

“We have a really good bench,” Sanford said. “We don’t have to run shadow offenses in practice because we have enough guys to practice, and then come into the games.”


So now that the regular season is over, and Wilson has had its fun in the Moore league, the real work is starting.

“Remember that everything else prior to the close of the season is for fun,” Jones said. “Now you’re in the big time. One loss and you’re out. The level of competition rises very fast.

“You make one mistake against a team like Sunny Hills that doesn’t make mistakes, and you’re going to lose. Quite honestly, we made a few little mistakes against Sunny Hills the first three times. If we play them again, the team with the fewest mental errors is the team that’s going to win.”