Long Beach sports aficionados might not have spent much time thinking about the Dana Hills football team.
It’s understandable. There are no rivalries between local high schools, and for the not-so-fiercely-named Dolphins, no big playoff history. But there is a bizarre coincidental link between the Dana Hills program and two of Long Beach’s most prominent sports positions.
The photo at the top of this post is the Dana Hills varsity football team in 1990. Two players on that team would go on to have successful careers in sports that spanned the width of the country. As of this year those careers brought the two teammates together again in Long Beach.
In the front row wearing jersey No. 14 is a backup quarterback named Andy Fee, now the athletic director at Long Beach State. In the second row from the top all the way to the right is a sophomore safety wearing No. 21—that’s Stephen Barbee, now the head football coach at Long Beach Poly.
“How weird is that?” chuckled Barbee in a recent interview.
Dana Hills’ 1990 team was good but not great. It was the only year that Fee and Barbee were on the varsity team together. Barbee would continue on in the sport but Fee moved on to golf in his senior year, a skill that would end up being much more useful to him professionally.
Head coach Don Douglass took the Dolphins to the CIF championship game in ‘91, and Fee was right to think he wouldn’t make it as the team’s starting quarterback. That squad was led by QB Scott Covington, who ended up playing at Miami and in the NFL.
“There weren’t a lot of similarities between that team and Long Beach,” said Barbee. “But it was a very tight group of kids, and like Long Beach kids there was a good brotherhood. Andy and I are 25 years removed from that team and we’re still friends, that was a really tight team.”
“It’s been almost 30 years and we’re still teammates, we’re still supporting each other,” said Fee.
After playing free safety for the Dana Hills varsity squad his sophomore and junior year, Barbee left the homogenous confines of South Orange County and moved to Maryland, where he played his senior year of high school football at a school that was a lot more like Poly: bigger, more racially diverse, and with more tradition.
He worked his way back to California and has had experience coaching at the polar extremes—before getting the Poly job he coached at St. Margaret’s, a small, affluent private school less than 5 miles from Dana Hills.
“The great thing about football, at Dana Hills or at St. Margaret’s or at Poly, is that the guys you go through it with become some of your best friends,” said Barbee. “I tell my kids that all the time. It’s like that with me and Andy—you’ll go on a different path than each other but when you meet up again it’ll be like a day hasn’t passed.”
Fee attended school at Dana Hills with another big Long Beach sports figure.
“Brent Hilliard was actually a senior when I was a freshman,” Fee said, referencing the future Long Beach State Hall of Fame volleyball player. Another quarterback on the 1990 team now lives in Long Beach with his family, and Fee bumped into him at a Long Beach State soccer game last weekend.
“It’s a really small world, you would never draw it up and think this is how it would be,” said Fee.
After high school, Fee went to Arizona State for college and began his work in athletic administration there, continuing at the University of San Diego and UC Santa Barbara before landing the head job at Long Beach State. Along the way his golf skills have come in handy, obviously.
“I was a clipboard-holding, backup quarterback,” said Fee. “I knew what my role was on the team—I was great at signaling in calls. I always tell our athletes, all of us have an end to our playing careers—mine was pretty early.”
Neither man is surprised at the other’s success. Barbee said that Fee was always organized and interested in leadership, and Fee said Barbee’s love of football and knowledge of the game made it obvious even in high school that he’d go into coaching.
The two had the chance to reconnect a few weeks ago at Poly’s game against Jordan in North Long Beach, the first night Fee didn’t have a Long Beach State event to attend on a Friday night. They talked before the game, congratulated each other on their successes, and laughed at how strange it was they ended up together again.
While the journeys they’ve taken have been separate, the two do have a similar approach to their jobs.
Fee has been determined since he arrived in Long Beach to end the “East Long Beach State” image that the university has and reconnect the school to Poly and Jordan and the other Long Beach schools and neighborhoods that have been missing. Barbee, too, has a community-first bridge-building approach that led him to stock his coaching staff with Poly alums from top to bottom, and to take the Poly team to volunteer at local hospitals during the offseason.
“I think because of how we grew up we understand how strong a commitment to your community is,” said Barbee. “Not only for the strength of your program but for its longevity and for things outside of sports.”
“We grew up surrounded by family and community, that’s not just lip service,” said Fee. “It’s meaningful. We were lucky enough to grow up in a true community and we’re lucky enough to find ourselves together again in another one.”