Players and coaches from the Raines and Mandarin high school football teams were handed keys to the city on Wednesday after bringing state titles back to Duval County.
“That’s a key to the city,” Mayor Lenny Curry said, pointing to a large golden key on display in Jacksonville City Hall Wednesday. “We give them out occasionally. I don’t give many of them out personally.”
“This will be the fourth one, Raines will be the fifth one, in my three-and-a-half years in office that I’ve personally handed to someone,” he said before presenting keys to Mandarin Head Coach Bobby Ramsay and Raines Head Coach Deran Wiley, who accepted them on behalf of their teams.
“You really rallied the city, probably in a way that you don’t know and you don’t understand,” Curry said, addressing the uniformed players packed into City Hall’s atrium. “Parents, other kids that aren’t playing, adults in the city that are struggling on any given day to achieve their goals and take care of their families, when you guys bring a championship like this home, when you go out on the field and do it, you give people hope. They rallied around you and they know they can get up now and they can grind through their difficulties to achieve their goals.”
New Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Diana Greene echoed Curry’s message of hope, but not before pointing out the hardships the players, and the City of Jacksonville, have faced in recent months.
“When I first arrived here in Duval County, my first football game was at Raines High School. Unfortunately, it was also a tragedy that happened that night,” she said, referring to a fatal shooting that followed a Friday night Raines High School football game in August.
Shortly after that shooting, Greene announced that a dozen high school football games that were expected to draw big crowds would be rescheduled. “Our young men did not complain,” she said. “They embraced the challenges we were facing, they embraced the seriousness of that incident and now we have come from tragedy to triumph.”
“In our celebration, let’s remember many of the young student athletes that we have lost to senseless violence that can’t stand where you are standing today,” she went on to say. “In our celebration let’s remember the people who have stood behind you, even when it would be easier to walk away. In this celebration, let’s remember the city of Jacksonville, with its strengths and weaknesses, that we have come together to create this synergy of team Duval to support you.”
“To the Raines nation, this is one of the most remarkable things that we could share together,” Coach Wiley said to the crowd gathered at City Hall. “I’m just honored and blessed to be here. And I tell you what, we want to try to three-peat, if it’s possible, but we’re going to put our best foot forward.”
The Vikings brought home the school’s third state football championship when they beat Cocoa 27-13 in the 4A title game, as was reported by our news partner News4Jax.
“My team, my players, I love them. I told them before the game we went down there to play, they were my heroes,” said Coach Ramsay. “What they did this year as a group, just like these players over here at Raines understand, they made a lot of right choices, they made decisions to work together, to stay together, to sacrifice. I think what both teams accomplished this year is a little taste of what all these players as individuals can accomplish when they go on and leave here.”
Mandarin won its first ever state football championship earlier this month with a 37-35 win over Miami Columbus, also reported by News4Jax, joining Raines as the second Duval County public school to win a state football championship this year and becoming the second Duval County School to ever win a state championship.
“I want those medals that are hanging around your neck to be symbols of hope, symbols of celebration, symbols of strength. Because one day you are going to put up the uniform,” Superintendent Greene said to both sets of players. “But you’ll always have that as a symbol of what you accomplished and what can be accomplished in the toughest of times.”
“But also allow it to be a symbol of teamwork. Because although there were stars on the field, it took all of you to accomplish the championship,” she said. “And for us to stand up as a school district and be a champion school district, whether it’s in the classroom or on the field, it will take all of us. It will take team Duval to make it happen.”