A special edition of What Up Long Beach?!, a conversation with Jordan Bell
Long Beach has always been known as a major producer for sports talent; the city has been turning out NFL players, MLB players, and Olympians since the 1910s with remarkable consistency.
But for decades the city was also known as a place where prominent alumni left the community, and often didn’t return.
“When I was growing up we didn’t have anything like this in the community, especially for families like mine that might not have been able to afford to spend money to go to something,” said Marcedes Lewis, set to enter his 13th season in the NFL. “You’d hear about all these NFL guys but you’d never see them. I wanted kids to be able to see me and know what they could accomplish.”
That trend has changed over the last 10 years as the latest generation of Long Beach stars has reversed course, providing free camps, facilities donations and more.
Long Beach Poly alum Jordan Bell came back to campus over the summer to run a camp for incoming freshman basketball players.
This summer there were four free one-day football camps hosted by Long Beach NFL products, which happened on successive weekends. For an entire month of summer, Long Beach kids from first grade through high school had the opportunity to get top-notch instruction, but also to see and touch success stories from their own community.
Lewis was the trailblazer, having started his free camp at Poly High 10 years ago. His mother, Yvonne Withers, helps run the camp, and this year booked legendary dance troupe Tommy the Clown to host a dance-off for the campers after the day’s football work was over.
“With it being the 10th one, we wanted to do something to make it really special for the kids,” she said.
The week after Lewis’ camp, Poly alum Jurrell Casey held a free camp specifically for linemen. The Tennessee Titans defensive end is a Pro Bowler who was named the 66th best player in the league by NFL.com. He’s been approached by multiple companies offering him promotional deals to use his name and likeness on paid camps—as a Pro Bowler, he could charge a lot of money for a camp.
Instead, he held a free camp in Long Beach for the third time.
“This is our city and we want to make sure the kids know the right path,” said Casey, who had his hand on the turf at Veterans Memorial Stadium giving individual instruction to campers.
Because today’s young NFL players grew up attending Lewis’ camp, they’re now thinking of ways to give back even as they’re still in high school and college.
Poly NFL rookie sensation JuJu Smith-Schuster (Steelers) and Jordan alum and NFL rookie John Ross (Bengals) held camps in the weekends after Lewis and Casey’s. Smith-Schuster said that he knew it was unusual for players like he and Ross to spend money on camps after just their rookie seasons, but that they didn’t want to wait.
“It’s great for our generation to start early, to start fast, that’s important,” he said. “John and I just had our rookie season, but we wanted to get out here right away and show the kids that we’re all about them. You see we’re all at each other’s camps helping out, too.”
Ross echoed Smith-Schuster’s sentiments.
“I didn’t want to wait, I wanted to get out and give back as quickly as I could,” said Ross. “I think it’s important to do that right away, it’s actually be something I’ve thought about since I was a kid.”
Just as impressive as the four players who put on camps were the other Long Beach alums who came out to help them. Ross and Smith-Schuster were at each other’s camps, and Poly alum Jayon Brown actually volunteered at three of them. Brown just finished his rookie year with the Titans and is hoping to put on an event next year. Jordan alum John Timu was also at two of the camps, and will return to the Bears this year after renewing his deal. Poly alums Randall Goforth (a recently minted Super Bowl champion with the Eagles) was also at a pair of the camps working with kids.
It wasn’t just players who put on camps that had an impact, either. Millikan alum Alden Darby spent two years in the NFL before finding a home in the Canadian Football League, where he helped lead the Toronto Argonauts to the CFL’s Gray Cup last year, Canada’s version of the Super Bowl. From Toronto, Darby saw on social media that a player at his alma mater had cleats that were so old they were coming apart, and two days later his mom arrived at Millikan with a trunk full of equipment.
Long Beach Jordan alum John Ross held a camp and celebrity flag football game at LBCC over the summer.
You can see the impact that recent baseball alums have had just by driving around the city. Long Beach’s nicest two youth baseball scoreboards were raised thanks to the efforts of two Wilson baseball alums.
When Aaron Hicks was drafted out of Wilson in 2007, he set aside a portion of his signing bonus to upgrade the scoreboard at Skip Rowland Field, the campus field for the Bruins. They now have a state of the art scoreboard there in the outfield.
The Long Beach PONY kids are in Pennsylvania trying to win a World Series title this week, but when they’re at home at Whaley Park, they don’t have to use their imaginations when they look at an old wooden scoreboard with half its bulbs burned out the way previous generations did. That’s because 2008 PONY World Champion and MLB pitcher Chase De Jong donated money from his first pro contract to build a new scoreboard.
Poly alum Jordan Bell grew up near the school and has always dreamed about finding ways to give back to his neighborhood.
“Jordan has been talking about giving back to his community since before he had any reason to think he’d be in a position to do it,” said his high school coach Sharrief Metoyer, who has been a father figure to Bell and is serving as an advisor to him.
Bell won an NBA title this year in his rookie season with the Warriors, and held a one-day camp for Poly players at his alma mater a few weeks after the parade.
“Some people just say they’re from Long Beach but I really love the city, I really want to give back in every way I can,” said Bell. “Right now maybe it’s with my time and maybe in the future I’ll be able to do more.”
Bell said that he and his high school classmate and best friend Sheldon Brown would talk all the time in high school about the needs of the community around Poly.
“It was hard just to find a place to play, we need more gyms in the community, we couldn’t afford to join a 24 Hour Fitness type place and a lot of kids today can’t,” he said.
Thanks to the recent wave of Long Beach pro athletes giving back, the future looks a little brighter–and the golden ring a little more attainable–for kids today.
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