Ridgeland High School Football Coach And Walker County School Superintendent Hold Press Conference

Ridgeland High School Football Coach Mark Mariakis and Walker County School Superintendent Damion Raines held a news conference today at Ridgeland about the charges made by the Freedom From Religion Foundation concerning churches cooking meals for the football team, Coach Mariakis leading the team in prayer, and other things.  Superintendent Raines said that he and the Walker County Board of Education believes that they are in compliance of state and federal laws.  From the Walker County Messenger:

“The Walker County Board of Education feels that we are in compliance with all federal and state laws and will continue to monitor and scrutinize areas that are considered questionable,” Raines said.

The FFRF is alleging that coach Mariakis allowed churches to prepare meals and feed the football team, including at least one meal that included preaching; led prays with his team after games; used Bible verses in motivational speeches and on team shirts; and held Christian football camps during summer break. The foundation delivered its first complaint on Aug. 21.

A review of the allegations has been conducted and a response letter is being finalized, to be sent to the FFRF Thursday, Raines said.

“We will still continue to have pre-game meals in the manner that we have,” Raines said. “We have a large amount of community support in Walker County and we are proud of that tradition. There will be certain areas of (pre-game meals) that we will take into consideration and if we have to change certain practices then we will.”

Further details on those changes will be in the response letter to the FFRF, such as if coach Mariakis led the team in prayer.

“There were a number of false allegations and those are addressed in the response letter,” Raines said. “Student-led prayer will be up to the student and that will be their choice.”

He clarified that students are not forced into those situations and can remove themselves if desired.

The community has rallied around Coach Mariakis, and I don’t believe that this out-of-town group is going to win.  Oh, I also graduated from Ridgeland in 2004.


The Walker County Messenger posted a letter that the school super sent the foundation.


  1. Trey A. says:

    I spent a lot of time around high school sports in Georgia public schools as an athlete and a newspaper reporter and what is being described at Ridgeland is quite common. I don’t see the problem. Are kids getting kicked off the team explicitly for not participating in the prayer? Are kids being forced to wear the t-shirts? This is silly stuff. I’m glad to hear that the community is rallying around the coach and I would not expect anything different.

    • John Konop says:

      I am Jewish and when I played football years ago we had a pre game prayer before the game done by a minister. I had no issue with that, the problem if true is the coach pushed the kids to join a Chritian camp, and took the kids to a Mormon church, and put down the religion. The team had Mormon kids on the team as reported. I have had coaches demonstrate their faith which is fine, but it steps over the line when they control who plays, and force kids into their faith, and insult the players religion. if true he should be let go. Our country is about individual rights not what the majority wants. The reason the middle east, Africa….has so many issues is the lack of respect for minorty views. This was a major cornerstone principal for our founding fathers!

  2. Rick Day says:

    1. Do Christians, especially when in the majority, historically tend to ostracize anyone not agreeing with their world-view?

    2. Is this a tolerant and well diversified community that welcomes and embraces those who are different in physical or spiritual aspects of personal choice?

    3. Is this community motivated more by a perception that their religion is under attack, and they have every right, as the mob majority to dismiss, marginalize and harass those who don’t believe the way they do?

    What in the hell are you people so afraid of???

    • Noway says:

      Rick, are you suggesting that this town not be afraid of the FFR folks and that the Christians should be tolerant of the FFR protest, that protest being an environment ‘free from religion’ ?
      I’d want to ask the FFR folks, “what are YOU GUYS afraid of?” Churches cooking pre-game meals? Invoking a Biblical inspirational phrase? Two items, I might point out, that are truly frightening!!

      • Lea Thrace says:

        Preface: I am a Christian with a strong relationship with God

        Does not matter what FFR is afraid of. Why have a constitution and laws if we are going to pick and choose what we are going to follow and enforce. There is a separation of church and state. The school and subsequently funded school activities are agents of the state. Does not matter that the activities are innocuous. It matters that someone elses rights are possibly being violated.

        Would we be so accepting of this behavior if the coach was doing all of this from an Islamic perspective?

        • Noway says:

          This group is making a fuss about this for the same reason a dog licks it’s privates, because it can. Goody for them! Are you saying that all laws on the books need to be enforced, Lea? Good, let’s enforce laws against voter intimidation by the New Black Panther Party that are being ignored by the Holder Justice Department. Or enforcing laws against illegals streaming across our borders into this country and stealing services intended for American citizens. Are those two instances not violations of existing laws? Sure they are. The people in charge of enforcing them are just choosing not to. Having Maw’s Country Cookin’ fixing dinner for a bunch of football players and having Reverend Good ‘ol Boy giving it a blessing is about as harmless an act is there is.

          • John Konop says:

            If true, how can you say “this group is making a fuss about this for the same reason a dog licks it’s privates….”?

            …..The allegations against Mariakis include:

            –Holding pre-game meals at a local church, where a “preacher sermonizes to the players about the Christian religion.”
            –Pressuring players to attend a Christian football camp that the players must pay for.
            –Leading pre- and post-game prayers.
            –Using bible verses on team gear and in motivational speeches.
            –Taking the team to a Mormon church and afterwards making fun on the religion within the proximity of Mormon players…..


  3. Noway says:

    Have there been complaints from the kids? What got this started in the first place? And from this fringe Freedom from religion group, where in your tolerance, people?

  4. Noway says:

    If the team was laying down their prayer rugs five times a day and facing toward Mecca, there would be nary a peep because “we wouldn’t want to offend anyone.” But they have no problems “offending” good old fashioned Christians. Christians have been turning the other cheek for decades, this is just a prime example of another assault. I think it’s horrible to find inspirational quotes, from….gasp…the Bible! Isn’t that terrible!!?? People have been inspired from this horrific book for eons. Don’t like it? Tough s**t! I hope the town tells these FFR wingnuts to kiss their ass.

    • John Konop says:

      …If the team was laying down their prayer rugs five times a day and facing toward Mecca, there would be nary a peep because “we wouldn’t want to offend anyone.”…

      Not true, if that happen in a public school you would see outrage.

  5. jiminga says:

    This is the first time I ever heard of fried chicken violating our freedom of religion. Another attempt by a miniature minority to change the great majority. Despicable, really.

    I’ve come up with a few different meanings for FFRF but am too much of a gentleman to post them here.

  6. Noway says:

    Aww, c’mon, James. You aren’t against ol’ Noway expressing his constitutional right to free speech are you? It might surprise you and some of the others on here to know I am not religious guy. Haven’t been to organized church in years. Or any unorganized church, either. What I am is a defender of tradition and religion has been a huge component of American life since we’ve had….American life. And those who’s life encompasses a strong religious component, in my truly humble opinion, have been under assault for years. Not saying Merry Christmas? Really??! Not having the Ten Commandments posted? Really?! Does anyone really disagree with what they espouse? Even though they are posted above the US Supreme Court? Not being able to pray for the safety of the participants in a Friday night high school football game? Really?! What is harmful about praying for the safety of the opponents? I think that most folks feel a sense of comfort in their religion. If Momma is undergoing open heart surgery, I’d be willing to bet her family is going to say a prayer for God to see her through. There is a famous saying that there are ‘no atheists in foxholes.’ Wonder why anyone would ever think to say that? Is it so bad to say a blessing over dinner? Every presidential inaugural address, with the exception of one, I think, has mentioned God or a Supreme Being. What’s ‘scary’ about that? Maybe you seek no comfort from anything other than your own logically programmed mind and that’s great, but folks who ‘cling to their guns and religion’ cause you no harm or pose a risk to you.

    • Lea Thrace says:

      Not being able to open a mosque just because it is a place of Islamic worship? How come you didnt add that one to your screed.

      If you replaced all references to Christianity in your post with Islam, would you feel as comfortable with what you posted?

      That being said, What part of separation of church and state do you NOT understand???!!!!

      Tradition does not mean you can continue to violate and selectively enforce rules.

      I strongly believe in a God who gave his only son to die for my soul. And I believe that others should have that kind of love in their lives. But I will NOT force that knowledge onto others. Defeats the purpose of coming to the Lord under your own volition.

    • James says:

      “And those who’s life encompasses a strong religious opinion . . . have been under assault for years.” It’s not an assault, Noway — it’s a simple realization that more and more people just don’t want religion in their face all the time. Which drives religious folks crazy and makes them increase their religion-in-your-facedness.

      Face the facts, Noway–a lot of people (myself included) don’t really care for the “tradition and religion” you speak of. We don’t mind that you care about it. Just keep it to yourself.

      • Noway says:

        You and I will just agree to disagree, James. I do want to point out that Truit (?) Cathy’s religious beliefs came under assault a few weeks back and those that had similar beliefs pushed back hard and showed their support.

          • Noway says:

            Mob? Dumb? James, James, James!! There’s that judgement thing again. To quote Mr. Spock to Dr. McCoy of Star Trek, “Really doctor, you really must learn to control your emotions. They will be your undoing…”

            • James says:

              It absolutely is a “judgement [sic] thing” — my judgment is that Truett Cathy’s opinion that we should deny rights to gays because it would somehow violate the Bible or offend God is an idiotic opinion.

              Where is this magical rule you keep referring to that, when someone says something stupid, I’m supposed to respond “well bless his heart, I completely tolerate that opinion?”

              • Noway says:

                You have a great point. The people of Walker County are expressing their judgement as well by not tolerating/supporting the actions of the FFR group.

                • James says:

                  I completely agree. Too bad that, if the FFR’s allegations are accurate, the law is not on Walker County’s side.

                  Which brings us back to Lea Thrace’s point that you keep ignoring — how is it that a guy who values “tradition” (I’m talking about you) can disregard this country’s tradition of separating church from state?

                  • Noway says:

                    But read Lea’s post.
                    “The fact that there are chaplains is not a problem because there are also representatives of other religions available to our troops”
                    She’s ok with the military having many different pastors! That’s not separation.

                  • Noway says:

                    Again, James, I’ve enjoyed debating with you. I guess it’s not as separate as the term implies. We see it in our everyday lives all over the place. The last time I was called to testify I court, I did have so swear to “tell the truth, the whole truth, so help me God.” Have a great night! Maybe we can talk about another subject tomorrow!!

  7. Noway says:

    Screed? LOL! You’re funny, Lea. If it is so separated why is there a House and Senate Chaplain? Better give those two dudes their walking papers, hon. Why are there chaplains in the Armed Forces? Aren’t the military and the US Congress the ‘state?’ Whoops!! (I think I hear the sound of crickets coming from your computer now!!!)

    Did I say I was against mosques? Never did. Pretty sophomoric attempt to make me a bigot.

    I’ve heard the evening prayers in Muslim countries numerous times and have no problem with them. I’ve trained people from Muslim countries for the last decade and have never had problems with them. Even cried with them at the end of training courses. Nice try!

    • Lea Thrace says:

      A few things:

      You do not know me. Do not attempt that “hon” bs with me. Do not go down that path with me. Let’s keep the discourse civil and intelligent.

      The fact that there are chaplains is not a problem because there are also representatives of other religions available to our troops. And I repeat: Tradition does not mean you can continue to violate and selectively enforce rules.

      The word bigot NEVER ONCE came up in my post. The implication wasnt even there. I simply asked a few questions. That you have yet to answer by the way.

      • Noway says:

        Sure it was. You inserted the Muslim reference in your post implying that I would never, ever support a similar tolerance. And I did answer your question by saying I have been working with them side by side for the past ten years, thereby showing my respect for them

        • Lea Thrace says:

          Your inference does not equal implication on my part. But whatever.

          And you have not answered the specific questions I asked. But whatever.

          We can end this discussion right here. I can see it is not going anywhere.

          Have a great day!

          • Noway says:

            “That being said, What part of separation of church and state do you NOT understand???!!!! The fact that there are chaplains is not a problem because there are also representatives of other religions available to our troops”

            I understand the concept, Lea, but I do not understand your apparent inconsistency. Do you truly want to separate church and state like you wrote above? Which is it?

            Do you want to include religion as long there are many faiths represented or separate it totally like your earlier response implies? As long as there are a bunch of different denominational pastors, it’s ok?

            Where is the church/state separation you talked about.

            • John Konop says:

              I want the right to dip my bagel into humus while drinking spiked egg nogg at a Christmas party listening to REM singing loosing my religion. 🙂

              • John Konop says:

                I apologize to all my middle eastern friends for not knowing hummus has a double m. And my Christain friends I Feel sorry for you if you have never had hummus. We Jews just claim it as our food. Sorry for the interruption, please feel free to openly insult each other.

  8. cheapseats says:

    So, what if you happen to think that all this religious hooey is just a waste of time and oxygen. I’m not offended – I’m embarrassed for the participants – willing and unwilling – who have to stand around “natching their scruts” while somebody tells them a fairy tale. This just ain’t what rational people do. Americans have become “exceptional” at mindless wastes of time – pray to Jesus or play Angry Birds…it amounts to the same thing.

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