JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – News4Jax continues to highlight what makes the schools in Saturday's Publix Bold City Showcase special -- on and off the field.
The second matchup Saturday will be a rematch of last year's Bold City Showdown game between Atlantic Coast and Mandarin high schools.
When Atlantic Coast was built just under 10 years ago near Baymeadows Road and I-295 to handle Southside growth, it pulled in students who would have gone to several area schools, including Mandarin, so the rivalry between the Stingrays and Mustangs developed naturally.
Mandarin's dominant victory in last year's rivalry game proved to be the Mustangs' first step to a state title.
After Mandarin High's football team shocked the state last year by pulling off a Class 8A state football title, the school's spirit remained high all year.
Principal John Kniseley, who was in his first term last year, said he wasn't surprised the students were riding high after the championship.
"I have always said, 'What happens with the football team, so goes your school year,'” he said. “And I think winning that state championship set that positive culture on campus."
The band played a hand (or a few bars) in keeping the school's spirit up, director Pam Chaffin said, and they hope to roll that unmatched school spirit into this season. The band spent weeks in the hot summer sun preparing to rock the grandstands of Saturday's game against Atlantic Coast.
"Oooohhh! We’re on. We’re ready. We’re ready for the TV. Always really excited about any coverage we can bring to our band," Chaffin said.
But the school goes way beyond what happens at football games.
One program that's very popular at Mandarin High is the Junior Reserved Officer Training Corps.
"We have approximately 250 cadets in our program," said Capt. Herbert Hadley, a Navy veteran who oversees the program.
He said the program, which is at capacity, is about building good citizens, not recruiting young people into the military.
"We’re about helping high school students make the transition from middle school to high school, then transition from high school to adult life, whatever they do,” Hadley said.
Other academic successes at Mandarin High include the Advanced International Certificate of Education program, multiple Advanced Placement classes and a medical program that sets a lot of students up in internships in the medical community and helps get them jobs in the medical field after graduation.
'Rays-ing' the bar
Graduation coach Blair Chambers said Atlantic Coast has become known as “the new kid on the block.”
"We have a gorgeous campus. We have state-of-the-art facilities,” Chambers said.
But what the Stingrays hope to be recognized for is their inclusive atmosphere for all races and nationalities, with a special emphasis on reaching students with special needs.
Ben Rowan, a teacher involved in many programs at the school, oversees “Spectrum Studios,” a filmmaking class for students with autism.
"We infuse both reverse inclusion and inclusion opportunities for students with autism by doing behavioral skills training through filmmaking,” Rowan said. “So students are able to get together, create a script, act, direct, edit, talk about things they may not be able to talk about (otherwise) in a relaxed setting.”
The school's cheerleading squad now has both male and female members. They were prepping for the big game when we stopped by campus.
"This will be the second time that it’s televised, but these seniors are ready to just put on a show and get the team hopefully to a victory," cheerleading coach Christin Norris said.
The cheerleaders weren't the only passionate voices we heard. News4Jax also came across a very vocal lacrosse team.
Coach Ceinwen Simpson said the program at Atlantic Coast includes the only co-ed lacrosse team in the area.
"It’s new to the First Coast. It hasn’t really been established here in Duval County for 10, 15, 20 years. So it’s a northern sport coming down,” Simpson explained. “It gets to be a little bit physical.”