Ridgeland County High School Football Coach Mark Mariakis is under fire from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. They cite both pre-game prayers as well as the fact that local churches are often the location for pre-game meals for his team. WRCB Chattanooga reports:
In an August 21 letter, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel asked Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines, to investigate complaints over practices by Mariakis. According to FFRF’s local complainant, Ridgeland, like Soddy Daisy and UTC, conducts prayers at school football games, and in this case often organized or led by Mariakis.
Mariakis is accused by the complainant of shuttling players to different churches for pre-game meals and “at these events the church’s preacher sermonizes to the players about the Christian religion.” Mariakis has stated publicly that the program “opens the door for some of the kids” and is “a way of meeting the need of the churches.” Ministers will “bless the food” and according to one church, “presented the Gospel of Jesus Christ” to the players.
FFRF is also calling attention to allegations that Mariakis uses bible verses as motivational tools and places pressure on players to attend a religious football camp. “Even if Mariakis is simply suggesting attendance, his position as head coach in charge of playing time, impregnates any suggestion with force. Playing time leads to scholarships and college; it should be a question of merit only, not religion,” Seidel wrote.”
Northwest Georgia is no stranger to controversy over attacks on religous activities at school sporting events. The Ft. Oglethorpe High School Cheerleaders in neighboring Catoosa County were involved in a similar controversy in 2010, which briefly became part of some statewide political campaigns.