As the clock struck 2:20 p.m. on Friday, 800 Kennedy High students filled the gym to celebrate Black History Month and begin their weeklong President’s Day vacation. The pep rally was full of balloon races, tug-of-war contests, dance moves, catwalks and cheer. Phillip Johnson, the school’s principal, even wore a blue Hawaiian shirt to accent the mood of the day.
Toward the end of the celebration, Johnson took a microphone and addressed the student body. As a not-so-perfect hush fell over the gym, the principal said he wanted to take a moment to salute the girl’s basketball team. And as players and coaches trickled on to the court, Johnson pulled out a blue-and-white banner that read “Women’s Basketball TCAL Stone Division 2012-2013 Champions.” It was the girl’s first pennant in more than a decade.
Lady Eagles head coach Rae Jackson then took the microphone and shouted, “Kennedy High School! We are champions!” Students sitting in the bleachers rained an American Idol-like ovation onto the court where the players and coaches stood.
After the team huddled together for a photo holding the historic banner, each player received a championship patch they could sew onto their letterman jacket. Junior forward Kaylanii Bardell said receiving a championship patch was an honor, but her biggest surprise was seeing how winning brought the community together.
But that wasn’t the end of the festivities, or the end of the school day. There was one more important announcement to be made. The principal stood by athletic director Miesha Gash and proclaimed Rae Jackson, the very same man that just directed the Lady Eagles’ 23-5 basketball season, would be the new football coach next year. Jackson also coaches the Richmond Eagles Youth Football Program. Johnson said 15 people applied for the position.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be chosen as the [new] head coach of John F. Kennedy High School,” Jackson said as he gave his second speech of the assembly. “It’s such a prestigious position in our community and hopefully we can lead our school back to the pride and promise that it had in years past. I look forward to all you coming out and playing football this year.”
Mark “Mack” Carminer, who led the Eagles football team to a 4-1 league record last year and first postseason appearance since 1991, was recently dismissed. He said by phone he would now focus his attention on completing his college degree and becoming a school administrator. “It’s just the nature of the beast,” Carminer said of his dismissal. “I love coach Rae a lot. He’s going to do a great job right there at the ‘K’.”
Carminer added he didn’t want to relinquish his position but “looks forward to helping coach Rae or coaching against him sometime in the near future.”
Graduating senior and former football player Jacob Qualls said the players have mixed feelings. “I know [coach Mack] put in a lot of work,” he said. “Those were his kids that he coached up. That was my only coach for football.”
Johnson said Jackson’s success as a basketball coach, his track record with Richmond’s youth football program, and his constant presence on campus as an instructional aid were reasons for his hiring. “We really feel like if Rae Jackson can take over our football team, he can take us where we want to go on and off the field,” he said. “It’s nothing against Mack. I want Jackson to do to the football team what he did for the girl’s basketball team. This is what I want for the future of Kennedy, and this is what we’re working toward.”