Love them or hate them, swear by them or at them, believe them or laugh at them, polls--whether football, basketball or baseball--are the spice of life for prep athletes, coaches and fans.
Eric Marrero, a returning all-South Bay linemen from St. Bernard, admits to anxiously awaiting the weekly polls. He takes them seriously, especially if his team isn't ranked.
"When we're not ranked, I play better because you're trying to gain respect," Marrero said. "If you are ranked, you play to protect that ranking."
Marrero said his coaches don't talk much about the ratings but the players often discuss them.
The players aren't the only ones thinking about the polls. They're on the minds of coaches, too.
'A Lot of Publicity'
"If you're rated up high, it gives your team a lot of publicity and people look positively at your program," said Don Markham, the first-year football coach at Bishop Amat, third-rated in The Times' Top 10.
"To me they (polls) don't mean anything, yet people always look at them to see where their team is rated."
Markham likes the idea of ranking teams. "It's good for the fans and good for the schools. I'm sure there are a few negative things too, but because of the publicity it brings to the players and the school, it's a good honor."
Even though he admits liking polls, Markham is not averse to taking issue with them.
He said his team was ranked too low when it was picked as only fifth best in the San Gabriel Valley in one poll.
"They rated us fifth and that's a complete joke," Markham said. "I won't say that there's nobody out there better than us, but we're certainly better than that."
Santa Monica coach Tebb Kusserow thinks early season polls, at least, are "ridiculous."
He cites the following to back up his contention. Last week, Santa Monica High was ranked first in the Coastal Conference in the first CIF football poll of the season. Yet Samohi lost its opener to Loyola, an unranked Big Five Conference team.
"We don't pay a lot of attention to polls, especially early in the season," Kusserow said. "We tell our players that it's quite likely they might be ranked, but that it doesn't mean anything."
Kusserow said that by the third or fourth week of the season, the polls are more valid. "They're (the polls) are fun. They give people a focal point. You have to begin somewhere."
Claremont Coach Bob Baiz likes the early season polls and the late ones too. And why not? His team usually is at or near the top of most of them.
'Something to Shoot For'
For most of the past two years, Claremont occupied the No. 1 spot in the CIF's Eastern Conference and is currently the No. 5 team in The Times poll.
"We favor them (polls)," Baiz said. "It gives us something to shoot for. . . . We're not going to get all shook if we drop or anything, but it's nice to be rated high. I think it's very positive for the schools that are involved. It adds to the interest of the schools, the players and the fans."
Baiz said what polls do is "give you a gauge if you're doing a good job. That doesn't mean that if you're not ranked you're not doing a good job."
He said his players read the rankings, but nobody posts them at school.
"We enjoy reading them and we're proud of the fact that people have put us that high, but we try not to take them seriously. They're nice and we like to be ranked, but in most cases the only one that counts is the last one, so that's what we are shooting for."
Fred Cuccia, coach of Hoover of Glendale, agrees. "The only poll that really counts is the final poll--the teams that win the CIF championships."
But Cuccia thinks polls have a positive impact if kept in the proper perspective.
"The kids enjoy seeing their name in the Top 10, but really they (rankings) have no bearing on me as a coach, or my team. A team that isn't ranked can still come up and beat a ranked team. In fact, it can give them a lot of incentive."
Westchester football coach Larry Wein isn't fond of polls, which he says he doesn't find particularly accurate.
"I'm not crazy about them," he said. " . . . But the kids like to see their team's name in the paper.
"If my teams are ranked, I'd rather be ranked late in the season rather than at the start. Being ranked early is definitely a negative factor, especially if we got it (the ranking) after a big game."