JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Ribault High School in Jacksonville has a rich football tradition. The Trojans football team has numerous district titles, a dozen state playoff appearances and has sent several players on to the NFL, including Laveranues Coles, Travis Taylor and Kelvin Martin.
But as Ribault's first matchup of the year nears, fears grow that the team will have to cancel its jamboree game Friday night because the Trojans have not yet received their helmets because of an unpaid bill.
And John Brown, whose son is a Ribault football player, told News4Jax he's fearful Friday's jamboree won't be the only matchup scrubbed.
Without the helmets, Brown fears, one by one, Ribault will have to cancel its games -- putting a pause on the school's and the city's deep-running high football tradition.
As of Wednesday, Brown said his son, who's a sophomore, and the rest of his son's teammates did not have their helmets -- forcing them to practice without them.
"As a parent and an alumni, this is extremely disappointing because I am looking at everyone else's kids throughout the city and they have the equipment they need," Brown said.
According to Brown, his son's helmet and the rest of the player's helmets were sent to Riddell for reconditioning, but the helmets were not sent back because the sports helmet company was waiting on a payment.
In an email sent at 3:40 p.m. Wednesday to News4Jax, a Riddell spokesperson wrote the company was still owed more than $14,000 for the Ribault football equipment. The email reads:
Riddell’s primary focus is advancing athlete protection. Riddell values its customers including our relationship with Ribault High School and Duval County Public Schools, but also needs to ensure we are compensated for our products and services.
"Riddell confirms Ribault High School owes Riddell $14,387 for a student and coach apparel purchase made for the 2017 football season. Riddell began discussions with Ribault about the amount due in October 2017 and have proposed a number of payment options above and beyond our standard credit terms to be accommodating to the school including setting up a payment plan for the amount due. In good faith, our local rep agreed to recondition 92 helmets in the offseason despite the amount owed and these helmets are ready to ship to the school. Unfortunately, Ribault has yet to provide an authorized agreement to the proposed payment plan (the paperwork was sent out three weeks ago requesting signatures; also, it was resent today), which has prevented Riddell from releasing the helmets for shipment. Upon receipt of written authorization of the payment plan, Riddell will immediately release the helmets and expedite the shipment at our cost to ensure the student athletes are able to practice in their helmets."
Brown said the Trojan football team has a jamboree game against University Christian scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, but without helmets, the team would have to forfeit the game.
The father said his son and the other players hope something can be done so they can get the helmets before then.
"They are optimistic that they are going to come, however, they are devastated that the game they should be playing this Friday is going to be canceled," Brown said. "They know that something is not right because they see all of their friends at the other schools are already in full pads with practices."
At 5:02 p.m. Wednesday, a DCPS spokeswoman emailed the following response::
Duval County Public Schools has worked with Riddell to ensure the immediate distribution of football helmets to the Ribault High School football program. It is expected that the helmets will be available prior to the school’s first game scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 23. At this time, the district is reviewing this matter to determine if appropriate procedures were followed."
Though the school district said the Ribault football team will have the helmets for its first regular season game, it's unclear exactly when the helmets will arrive -- fueling fears that Friday's jamboree game will be canceled and that Ribault will start the season off with a disadvantage if the players are unable to practice without helmets.