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Heritage Classic between Raines, Ribault more than just a baseball game

Second annual event between rival schools was postponed until Feb. 23 due to weather

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s not a big game by a sports definition. It’s an early season baseball game with only bragging rights on the line.

But Raines and Ribault playing under the lights at 121 Financial Ballpark and donning the jerseys of a team from the long-gone Negro Leagues is a big story.

It’s remembering history. It’s honoring that history. And it’s raising awareness for change that is still happening everywhere.

The makeup game between the two Northwest Jacksonville rivals —which was originally scheduled for Feb. 12 as a preseason scrimmage — is now an actual regular season game. It will be held Tuesday at 6:35 p.m.

And it’s one more chance for players, coaches and fans, to learn about and honor the history and tradition of Black athletes in the area.

“I went by when we had our talk with Ribault this morning [Feb. 12], I was able to further explain the importance of this, to be able to, as a high school student, give nod to over 100 years of history in being African American and playing a sport that we all love,” said Andrea Williams, director of community relations with the Jumbo Shrimp. “So, they’re super excited. We’re super excited to be able to educate the community on something that we’re very passionate about. We’re just ready to get it in.”

The teams were ready to play Friday, but due to the weather, it was postponed. Instead, the Heritage Classic was moved to Feb. 23.

In the one year since the Vikings and Trojans faced off in the inaugural High School Heritage Classic, donning the jerseys of the Jacksonville Red Caps — an 8-4 Raines win Vikings fans will tell you — there has been more movement for change and dialogue on race and equality than any other recent time period.

There’s also been a renewed and far greater focus on the history of Black men and women in sports, including a significant reclassification by Major League Baseball to treat Negro League players as equals.

An announcement by Major League Baseball last December gave the long-gone Negro Leagues the same treatment as the majors, helping right an injustice that spanned across parts of nine decades. All players who in that league are now considered major leaguers.

The Negro Leagues were a collection of seven separate entities that were intact from 1920-48. They began to fade away after Jackie Robinson broke into the big leagues with the Dodgers in 1947.

There’s been a renewed focus on the rich baseball history here. While residents may have heard a story or two about baseball history in Jacksonville, it’s probably been more talked about in the past six months than it has in the previous few decades.

City Councilman Ron Salem has proposed to name the field at J.P. Small Park after iconic Braves slugger Henry Aaron, who died last month. Aaron played the 1954 season with the Jacksonville Braves at JP Small Park, which was then called Durkee Field. That was the same place where the Negro League Red Caps played for three years. The Florida Times-Union recently took a look at that rich history.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.