Poly Pride : Decades of Grads Converge on Long Beach High School to Mark 100th Anniversary

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A century's worth of yearbooks came to life Saturday at Long Beach Polytechnic High School.

Thousands of alumni streamed into the campus courtyard for a cross-generational class reunion marking the school's 100th anniversary.

Transformed into a living history classroom, the school commonly known as Poly looked back on its roots, its success stories and the whirling carnival of academics, sports, style and adolescence-induced insanity that is high school.

Alumni from 1918 on separated according to the decade they graduated--catching up, trading photos and yes, signing yearbooks a little late.

Organizers displayed old band uniforms, trophies and memorabilia, offered tours of the school and pried open a time capsule last sealed in 1939. In the sparkling blue sky, a skywriter drew the number 100 and the word Poly.

"I can't believe it's this old," said George Gordon, who played the clarinet in the school band before receiving his diploma in 1926. "I haven't been here since I graduated."

To the students who used its lockers and to the surrounding community, Poly is a longstanding symbol of the pinnacle of education, a place that lived up to its title, "Home of Scholars and Champions."

Some alumni lauded the football team, a powerhouse for nearly 100 years. Others praised Poly's reputation for quality education. Another group applauded its Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program, the oldest west of the Mississippi. Blacks and whites spoke about racial harmony. Across the generations, alumni said, school spirit runs deep.

"I should've worn my letterman's sweater," said Bob Schilling, 77, who was captain of the cross-country track team before graduating in 1926. "Of course, I'd probably have a little trouble getting into it."

To commemorate the event, alumni recalled their high school years. Rep. Steve Horn (R-Long Beach), who has two children who graduated from Poly, read a proclamation from President Clinton praising the school. The city renamed a nearby street Jack Rabbit Lane, in honor of Poly's mascot.

"Beats the homecoming events to pieces, doesn't it?" joked Lakewood Mayor Wayne Piercy, Class of 1949. "This campus, and the way it's set up, has always been unifying. It was a lifestyle where you were just proud of your school."

Graduates from every decade rattled off the names of well-known alumni: soprano Marilyn Horne, band leader Spike Jones, baseball star Tony Gwynn, rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg, actress Cameron Diaz ("The Mask"), San Diego Charger Carl Weathers, Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill, and John Wayne even attended for a year, before transferring to Glendale High.

But the biggest attention-getter was Frank Reagan, president of the Class of 1918 and a former track star. At 98, Reagan is the only member of his class still living and the second-oldest Poly graduate. With a squad of Junior ROTC cadets standing guard behind his wheelchair, Reagan shook hands with dozens of well-wishers.

"It's a great big school now," said Reagan, who picked the school mascot on the way to a track competition in Pasadena about 80 years ago. "It was much smaller when I was here." Virginia Cords and Rosalie Wells, his daughters, graduated from Poly in the mid-1940s.

In spite of its academic excellence and pride, Poly has seen its share of troubles over its 100 years. In 1992, police arrested members of a secretive club called the Ace of Spades, including at least one Junior ROTC cadet, for the murder of a 16-year-old student who told authorities about a series of auto burglaries that he and another club member had committed.

In the 1960s, 24 students were injured in a violent racial brawl. In 1933, a major earthquake rocked the campus in the spring, forcing students to attend classes outside on Burcham Field for the remainder of the school year and under tents for a few years afterward.

"Our room number was on a paper flag on a stick," recalled Marvin Pike, Class of 1935. "You had to hurry to get a seat."

His classmate, Sybil Moss O'Day, said she managed to enjoy school despite the earthquake. And she blew off some steam on Senior Ditch Day, when soon-to-be graduates skipped town and spent the day on Catalina Island.

"It has a history of school spirit. It's a place where people are proud to say 'I went to Poly,' " said Carrie Swain, 32, a cheerleader in the Class of 1980.

Added her mother, Joan, 52, Class of 1960: "And it still is."

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