Above, L.A. Unified leaders join Narbonne High’s players and coaches in a celebration of the Gauchos’ CIF state championship.

Receiver Steve Jenkins speaks to the Board of Education during a celebration of the Narbonne Gauchos’ state title. He’s backed by, from left, running back Jermar Jefferson and linebackers Darien Butler and Julian Lewis.

Having captured the state CIF championship with an astonishing come-from-behind win, the Narbonne High School football team took a ceremonial victory lap on Tuesday as players were honored by the Board of Education.

About 30 members of the Gauchos – many of them clad in their green spirit wear – received kudos for last month’s 28-21 win over Pittsburg High School during a hard-fought contest held at Sacramento State. With the Bay Area team leading by three touchdowns early in the second quarter, Narbonne rallied to earn its second Division 1-A title in the last three years.

“These are not only athletes, but scholars, and that is what excites me about what they are doing,” said Dr. Richard Vladovic, the board member who represents the Harbor City campus. “Each of these gentlemen has a career and a future planned out, with the assistance of their coaches and their principal.”

The Gauchos have been coached for the last 15 years by Manuel Douglas, who also teaches special education students at Narbonne. Under his leadership, the Gauchos have won the California Interscholastic Federation’s City Section Championship for the last four seasons – seven times in the last decade – and are ranked among the Top 10 teams statewide.

Narbonne Coach Manuel Douglas signals the Gauchos’ first-place finish to Principal Gerald Kobata and Local District South Superintendent Christopher Downing. Click on the photo to view a KLCS video of the celebration.

Recounting the challenge of the championship contest, Douglas told the board it didn’t really register that his team was trailing the Pirates 21-0. Instead, he kept his players focused on their end game.

“We play for four quarters,” said Douglas, himself a graduate of L.A. Unified’s South Gate High. “I felt the resilience and character of this team. We’ve got a lot of strong men who are winners.”

During the half-hour celebration, the players were invited to the microphone to introduce themselves and express their Narbonne experience in a single word. Suddenly shy at finding themselves in the spotlight, players managed to summon up feelings like “victory,” “family” and “brotherhood.”

“I think it’s a blessing,” said Julian Lewis, a senior linebacker who has his sights set on college. “I love the positive energy of my team, and I love my District.”

Local District South Superintendent Christopher Downing called the Gaucho’s 12-3 season “historic,” noting that Narbonne won each league game by more than 35 points.

“This is a tremendous accomplishment,” Downing said. “The courage that the team showed by coming back from 21 points down in an unfriendly environment and fighting back the way you did … you exemplify what your team and our District stand for – perseverance and excellence.”

Principal Gerald Kobata said the pride in the Narbonne title extends far beyond the campus boundaries.

“This really means a lot to the community – a great bonding,” he said. “We have kids from different parts of the city come to Narbonne, but they are all part of the Narbonne community. We’re a big extended family.”

Click here to watch a KLCS-TV video on the Narbonne ceremony.