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.