Ribault High helmet crisis averted ahead of football season

Lack of helmets threatened to pause Jacksonville school's football tradition

By Destiny McKeiver - Multi-media journalist, Jenese Harris - Reporter/anchor, Francine Frazier - Senior web producer, Corley Peel - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - While a helmet crisis that threatened the start of the Ribault High School football season was averted this week and the helmets arrived at the school on Friday, it was too late for the team to participate in Friday's referees' scrimmage at University Christian.

Riddell, the sports equipment company tasked with reconditioning the Trojans' helmets, said an agreement about an outstanding bill was reached on Thursday.

The company said in a statement that the school owed the company $14,387 from a 2017 apparel purchase for students and coaches. The company spokesperson said a Riddell representative agreed to recondition 92 helmets for the Trojans, despite the outstanding balance.

RELATED: Unpaid bill threatens start of Ribault High's football season

The cost for the refurbishment was $3,925.39, plus $310 for next-day air shipping. But when the school failed to agree to a payment plan for the money it owed, Riddell decided not to release the helmet shipment.

A statement from the company reads, in part:

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."

But News4Jax heard from Riddell again Thursday morning, when the company said, “The customer paid the invoice for the helmet reconditioning, including next day air shipping.”

As players picked up their helmets from the Ribault locker room Friday afternoon, parents said they were upset they wouldn't be able to see the players wearing the helmets later in the evening.

"The money is going somewhere. It has to be," said Arthur Hendley, whose grandson plays on the Ribault football team. "If the school cannot furnish the equipment for the players, where is the money going?"

Though the Trojans won't be participating in Friday's event at University Christian, Ribault can get enough practice with helmets to be ready to open its regular season in two weeks. According to Duval County Public Schools, players have to practice in full gear at least three times before participating in a game. 

"As of right now, the helmets have arrived and we're extremely happy they have arrived," said John Brown, whose son plays on the Ribault football team. "The kids understand they aren't going to be able to play, but they're happy to have their equipment."

Though the Trojans weren't able to play, other high school football teams participated in the referees' scrimmage at University Christian. Chuck Armstrong, whose son plays for Westside High School, was disappointed he didn't get to see Ribault's team. 

"I would have liked to have seen them play. I’m sure a lot of other people would have liked to have seen them play," Armstrong said. "It’s unfortunate for the kids because its not their fault that this is happening."

Riddell said the more than $14,000 apparel invoice remains unpaid, but the district is working with the company to resolve that issue as well.

In a statement Friday, a DCPS spokeswoman said the district is aware of the outstanding bill and "has asked Riddell for time to review this matter and arrange payment for all confirmed outstanding balances owed to Riddell."

The spokeswoman said earlier this week that the district will be reviewing the matter to see whether appropriate procedures were followed and why the balance existed.

News4Jax is working to learn exactly where the money came from to pay the helmet reconditioning bill.

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