Although crowds for junior college football games tend to be small, fans often see talented, well-coached players and spirited rivalries, such as the one that will be renewed at 7 p.m. Saturday when Long Beach City College plays host to Cerritos College at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach.
"You see good football at a junior college game," said Cerritos Coach Frank Mazzotta. "The games are as good if not better than some of the games played by four-year schools."
Of the players in Saturday night's Mission Conference Northern Division game, about 95% will eventually go on to win scholarships to universities and small colleges.
"That's our selling point," Mazzotta said. "We don't have anyone playing here for the fun of it."
Cerritos leads the series, 16-13-1, but Long Beach won last season, 34-9, its first victory over the Falcons since 1979.
"Bellflower High could have beaten us last year," Mazzotta said.
In 1988, Cerritos was 1-10, Mazzotta's worst record since he became coach in 1978. His overall record at Cerritos is 67-49-4.
"This is a big game for both teams," said Long Beach Coach Wil Shaw, who is in his sixth season (22-32-2) as coach of the Vikings. "It will be intense."
"The kids on both teams come from the same areas," Mazzotta said. "Everybody knows each other. That fires it up, it really becomes heated."
And there is always the added incentive for Mazzotta of facing his old school. He played on Long Beach's 1962 national championship team.
Cerritos also has the legendary "broken door incident" for inspiration.
After the Vikings won at Cerritos 10 years ago, they broke an aluminum folding door in the Falcons' locker room, Mazzotta said. Cerritos players dress on one side of the door and the opponents on the other.
"The kids have always made a big deal about it," Mazzotta said. "Every year they bring it up."
So what did the Vikings do last year after winning at Cerritos? They knocked down the door again.
Mazzotta and Shaw agree that a major reason they have stayed in junior college football is the challenge brought by the quality of coaching.
"Everybody is up to date," Shaw said.
"Every team you play has good coaches," said Mazzotta, who also believes the quality of players has improved because of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.'s Proposition 48, which established minimum grade and entrance exam requirements for Division I college athletes. Many athletes who have failed to qualify under that proposition have enrolled in junior colleges.
Still, most junior college games are played before crowds of 1,000 or less. But that is not the case at Cerritos, where there are even booster buses for road games.
"Last Friday night we had 4,000 on our side of our stadium," Mazzotta said.
Cerritos is 3-3-1 this season with victories over San Bernardino, Fullerton and Grossmont, defeats to San Diego Mesa, Riverside and Rancho Santiago and a tie with Taft.
Long Beach is 3-3. The Vikings have defeated Golden West, Palomar and Grossmont, and lost to Rancho Santiago, Riverside and Mt. San Antonio.
"We're still waiting to play a good game offensively and defensively," Shaw said. "We haven't played our best game yet. When we do, people will know about it.
Turnovers have plagued the Vikings. They made seven in a 34-30 loss last week to Mt. San Antonio.
Cerritos is led by Avery (Juke Man) Moore, a sophomore wide receiver from Dominguez High School. He has caught 32 passes for 446 yards and seven touchdowns.
Damon Fisher, who runs Long Beach's option offense, has completed 40 of 88 passes for 591 yards and seven TDs, and has run for 290 yards and five TDs. Viking running backs Corey Sylve and Keith Huff average more than 5 yards a carry.
The game will be Long Beach's homecoming. Athletic Director Chuck McFerrin said he hopes for a crowd of 4,000, although "maybe that's a little wishful thinking."