By Kenneth Miller, Publisher
Only Inglewood High School Principal Debbie Tate knew what she was thinking when she decided to hire Mil’Von James to become the Sentinels football coach in the early spring of 2019, but it could be a decision that transforms the entire Inglewood Unified School District.
At the time Inglewood’s football team was coming off another abysmal season where it had lost all 10 of its games while only scoring more than a touchdown in three of them.
The district had experienced a mass exodus of students leaving their schools to attend those outside the district, some to neighboring communities, many talented athletes to private schools or rich athletic traditions.
Marred under state or Los Angeles County rule, parents cited the condition of buildings, facilities and the education experience as some of the reasons for transferring their children away from IUSD.
James, 37, who had been graduated from Fremont in South Central Los Angeles knew from first-hand experience what Inglewood was and could be. After all he was football star at Fremont before going on to a stellar career at UCLA.
He built a power house program in the Los Angeles Unified Schools District at such an obscure school as Hawkins, establishing a winning culture and sending players to Division 1 colleges, but departed amid alleged recruiting violations.
There isn’t a major high school program in the state or nation that does not recruit players and the parents of elite student athletes should and do enjoy freedom to transfer their children within the stipulated rules.
One prime example is Alabama Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Bryce Young who transferred from Los Angeles Cathedral to national juggernaut Mater Dei in Orange County and will likely be the top NFL draft pick in 2023. Few dares mention that ever attended Cathedral or that he was recruited. Perhaps because it is because he went to play at a predominantly white school affluent private school?
However, when talented players, most of them Black, choose to transfer to a public school in an urban community and play for a successful Black coach such as James it receives unwarranted scrutiny. James is an asset that any school should welcome and Tate was wise in her hire of him.
In his first year, James hit the ground running, scrambling to assemble a team that a year before could not win a game to one that advanced to within a game of the D-13 championship, losing in a stunning upset to at-large entry and subsequent champion Esperanza, 42-41.
The following year, the season was cut short because of the COVID pandemic after the team won all four of its games.
Last year, Inglewood was undefeated again before succumbing to eventual D-2 champion Alemany 56-30 in the semifinals.
The Sentinels will have an opportunity to make amends for those heartbreaks when it competes for their first football championship during the modern era in school history when it put its undefeated 13-0 record on the line at private school powerhouse Sierra Canyon (9-4) on Nov. 26 at 7:30 p.m.
Asked if he is surprised that Inglewood is highest seed (No. 3) remaining in the rugged D-2 bracket, James shrugged.
“No, not really. Serra (Gardena) was No. 1 and lost to Sierra Canyon and we beat Chaminade which was No. 2, so no I’m not surprised.”
“We put ourselves in this position that it took years to build. Two semifinals and we figured Inglewood would win a championship in perhaps year 5 or 6, but here we are now.”
A bevy of players have gone on to major colleges programs including quarterback Justyn Martin who went to UCLA last year.
Inglewood is no longer a place where students want to leave, but instead they desire to come. Imagine that!
“Kids have embraced the way the coaches put them in a position to be successful on and off the football field,” James said this week after his team attended the 46th annual CIF Champions luncheon at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Nov. 21st.
He says football is the easy part.
Inglewood does not have a home field and the practice field is often in such poor condition that weather prevents the team from playing on it, but James does not allow that to hinder preparation or motivation.
“We use that as a rally cry,” he added.
Inglewood Unified School District has been granted $150,000 by the Los Angeles Rams through the National Football League Foundation Grassroots Program to refurbish the grass field at Caroline Coleman Stadium in Inglewood that hopefully will be ready for the 2023 season.
Inglewood played its “home” semifinal playoff at Torrance High.
Success has not come easy for James and his Inglewood football players and I don’t feel that he is appreciated as much as should be.
“There are days when I ask is it worth it, but I know my worth. The hard part is managing adults. Football is the easy part Monday through Thursday.”
When he takes his squad to Chatsworth to play at Sierra Canyon, a school for celebrities’ kids such as LeBron James and others he can achieve something no other coach before him could.
“Sierra Canyon is a great program that plays in the shadow of the basketball team. Well coached and they won a lot of championships, 8-man, 11-man. It’s school of influence, a school of stars.”
And just what does Inglewood have to do to beat that.
“Stay true to who we are and it’s going to be fun.”