A lost hubcap brought Wini Jackson to the dealership where the Long Beach Polytechnic High School freshman football team was washing cars.
From the moment Jackson met the players, help for the cash-strapped team began falling into formation. Jackson didn't have time for a carwash, but she promised to help. She rallied community support for the team's banquet today.
On the brisk November morning when Jackson met the team, the league champion freshmen were trying to raise money for their banquet since they were not included in the varsity and junior varsity meal.
After four carwashes, the $600 the team raised still fell far short.
"Freshmen never get anything," said Jackson, a county employee. "People forget that these young people played their hearts out. We need to play up their accomplishment. After all, these are the same kids who go on to win varsity."
After hearing of the team's plight, Jackson contacted county Supervisor Don Knabe, whose office is sending a representative to present commendations to the players in a ceremony today at the Petersen Automotive Museum on Wilshire Boulevard.
Next, Jackson called restaurateurs Steve and Bob Nuccio, who are co-sponsoring lunch at their Little Joe's Italian Restaurant after the museum ceremony.
Now Jackson and the team were on a roll, and momentum steadily grew.
Universal Care, a Signal Hill HMO, donated $600 after a request from Gwendolyn Douthett, an employee and freshman team booster club member.
"It's a godsend, the way everything unfolded so wonderfully," said Douthett, whose 15-year-old son is a fullback.
The freshman team's festivities will go into the evening at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where Poly's varsity team will play Mater Dei for the Division I state football championship--the first time the varsity has made the state finals in 12 years.
Today's honors for the freshmen are a payoff for months of sacrifice and hard work. Their practices began in July's sizzling heat.
The fledgling players had been to Poly's powerhouse football program, which has a reputation for sending players to college teams and the National Football League.
Players who survived the two weeks of twice-a-day summer practices made the team.
"I thought about quitting a few times, but I kept going," said Dajuan Davis, 14, who wants to attend college and become a highway patrolman. "I wanted to reach my goals."