First Coast Buccaneers Head to Championships | SLIDESHOW | News

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First Coast Buccaneers Head to Championships | SLIDESHOW

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The First Coast High School football team will board a bus and head to Orlando this morning to compete in Friday night's 7A state championship.

The school is just the third in Duval County Public School's history to go to the game, but could be just the second to bring home the trophy.

"That says a lot about our kids and the hard work that they put into it," said Coach Marty Lee.  "You know, it's about those young men."

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Sandalwood lost the championship game in 1995.  Just two years later, Raines High School became the first ever public school team in Jacksonville to win a state football title.

"It's been 14 years since Raines High School, I think, was the last public school to go to the state championship," said First Coast High School Principal Vincent Hall.  "As an alumnus of Raines High School and to be the principal now of First Coast and we're going, I'm very ecstatic.  So, it's great to be a Buccaneer."

Budget Hurdles

The road to the championship was not easy for First Coast.

Over the summer, they lost one of their regular season games because funding for the football program was in jeopardy.

The Duval County Board of Education decided to keep football, but cut funding to several other sports including wrestling and tennis.   

"It was just devastating to hear the impact that it has on these young men and women.  I mean, it's the greatest drop out prevention program ever--no doubt about that and to maybe not even have sports?  And we think about here we are 18 weeks later and we're representing Duval County, the school system and The City of Jacksonville," Lee reflected.  "It's amazing how [far] we've come."

Coach Lee said he was proud of how the community stepped up and raised the money needed to save the sports on the chopping block.

Friday Night Lights

Pam Belger's sons have already graduated from First Coast High School, but she still attends every game. 

When she's not selling tickets, Belger is standing on the sidelines cheering on the Buccaneers.

"It brings a sense of closeness, a sense of the community coming together," said Belger.  "It's bringing back Friday night lights to an area that, you know, needs a little bit of awakening."

Belger and her husband will drive down to Orlando Thursday afternoon so that they can support the team at Friday's championship game.  She already has her Bucs letter jacket and her husband's sweater vest waiting by the front door.  Mr. Belger wanted to wear the blue and black sweater vest in honor of Coach Marty Lee, who wears one almost every Friday night on the sidelines.

Pam Belger said she never had a second thought about making the drive to see the team take the field.    

"As a parent and you don't even have a child playing and a child comes up with tears in their eyes and hugs you on a Friday night

[be]cause they won," Belger shared.  "That's what it's all about."

The Game

Seniors Jacobye Jacobs and Juwaun Fannin have been on an emotional roller coaster this week.

They have gone from excited to nervous to confident.

"You really can't express it in words.  It's just exciting," said Jacobs.  "I'm just going to be happy.  We're all going to be happy.  We're just happy to make it to state and try to go get this ring."  

"It'll be a bittersweet moment-last time ever being able to play football in high school," Fannin said.  "Then again, it's like just enjoying the moment.  Just enjoying the moment."

Friday night's game kicks off at 7 p.m. at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. 

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