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Donors fund championship rings for Raines' football players

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Raines High's back-to-back Class 4A football titles will go down in history. The bragging rights are free, but the championship rings for the players costs tens of thousands of dollars, something neither the players nor the school could afford.

"It's a very difficult thing to do in terms of getting money and having these kids be responsible for their own rings and jackets so we always try to find a way to get support and help because we understand the situation," head coach Deran Wiley said.

Soon, the players will get rings to forever remember their achievement thanks to the support of a Jacksonville law firm and foundation. In a ceremony Friday morning in the school's auditorium, the football team was surprised with two check presentations. Attorney Chris Chestnut presented the team with a $17,000 check to go toward purchasing the championship rings on behalf of the Christopher M. Chestnut Foundation.

"When you win a championship, there should be expectations of receiving some type of reward. I felt it very important to honor that commitment," Chestnut said. "It reminds me why I practice law. It reminds me why I fight so hard in the community. That's what this is about -- the youth. This is our future and they're winning. So I'm proud and I'm inspired. So you ask me what I get out of this ... inspiration."

An additional $5,000 check was given by Monique Ross and the L Monique Foundation. A portion will go toward the cost of the championship rings, with the rest going to a cheer and dance scholarship fund.

"When you think about the narrative that's been displayed about Raines High School, this was an opportunity for us to be a part of the change in that narrative. We wanted to take the opportunity to be a part of something that highlights the positive, hard work and dedication that these young men have shown to the entire community," Ross said. "When you graduate, it's a milestone. You get the diploma, you get the piece of paper -- something tangible that's a constant reminder of what you've accomplished. This ring is the same thing -- something that would remind them, when they leave this school, that they can continue to achieve great things."

The Raines High Vikings football season started rough with a violent night following its first game against Lee High. Fifteen minutes after the season opener, three people were shot outside of the stadium. One victim, a 19-year-old, died. A Lee High student and Raines High student were wounded by the gunfire.

This tragedy brought forward the topic of safety and the Duval County School Board began making changes to the start times of certain football games. But the Vikings pushed forward, moving on to the state championships where they beat the Cocoa High Tigers for the Class 4A title. Senior players like Nigel Allen and James Hall say they strive to bring positivity to their neighborhood.

"People say Raines is a bad place and a bad neighborhood, but even though the bad, there's light. When the light shines, it's great to come out here and be a part of that light and positivity; no negativity," Allen said. "Getting a ring is an achievement. No matter what anybody says about your high school or neighborhood, all you have to do is pull out the ring and say, 'This is what I got from this neighborhood, from this school,' and I can do anything with it."

"It's a blessing and I just want to thank God. There's a lot that goes on in the neighborhood and some people think bad about where we're at because of the school we're at, but there's a lot of positive that happens behind the scenes," Hall said.

The students and players had no idea they were going to receive funding for their rings.

"Sometimes we just hear about tragedies or isolated incidents. What this demonstrates is that these guys are committed," Wiley said. "It took an entire season to win a championship. We're all just paying it forward."

Following the ceremony, the players and coaches flooded Chestnut and Ross with hugs and handshakes before returning to class. The coaches will order the rings and are planning to hold a championship ring ceremony sometime in April.