Sunday, 20 October 2019 19:57

Raider Nation shows 'commitment', helps Richmond football win #WearItLikeAPro contest

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Junior Jarod Morrison (15) sports a Riddell helmet ahead of a game earlier this season. Junior Jarod Morrison (15) sports a Riddell helmet ahead of a game earlier this season. Jimmy McDonald — The Richmond Observer.

ROCKINGHAM — Winning on the field isn’t the only thing the Richmond Senior High School varsity football program has been doing this fall.

Announced Friday morning, the Raiders were named the winner of the #WearItLikeAPro contest, a competition hosted by the Carolina Panthers and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. The collaboration of the NFL team and insurance company, which promoted player safety, awarded Richmond with 24 brand new Riddell SpeedFlex helmets.

The online voting competition, which began on Sept. 3 and ran through Oct. 15, saw over 200 high schools from across the state enter. There were four winners named, one from each classification, with the Raiders taking home the 4A crown. Other top vote getters were East Wilkes (1A), North Wilkes (2A) and Tuscola (3A) high schools.

A style of helmet worn by NFL players, the Riddell SpeedFlex helmet collected a five-star rating from Virginia Tech’s STAR evaluation system. According to the school’s website, 20 different models of varsity helmets have received the highest safety rating, with the SpeedFlex among them. The helmets use a shell made of polycarbonate material, among other features, to help protect players from concussions and other head injuries.

“Our impact tests evaluate a helmet’s ability to reduce linear and rotational acceleration of the head resulting from a range of head impacts a football player might see on the field,” VT’s website reads. “Helmets with more starts provide a reduction in concussion risk for these impacts.”

While the total vote tally wasn’t released by the Panthers, Richmond had upwards of 154,500 votes just eight days into the competition. That mark, and the complete backing of Raider Nation and the Richmond County community, both impressed and humbled head coach Bryan Till.

“Anytime the reward is based on voting, it’s going to take the involvement of many people to be successful,” Till said. “I have had so many people in different walks of life around our community talk about voting and how they just kept doing it. 

“In particular, I appreciate Mr. (Jim) Butler showing his support of this as a way to work together within our school community,” he added of Richmond’s head principal. “This is a win in terms of money savings, but even more of a win by showing what we can do together.”

The driving force behind getting Richmond County involved was Chad Suggs, who’s a managing partner at Carolina Squared, a consulting firm in advertising, marketing and public relations. Suggs, along with his wife Lindsey, helped redefine the Raiders’ brand on social media, using several platforms to push fans to vote on a daily basis.

“Lindsey and I have worked with Coach Till since March to establish a strong presence on social media channels to help bring awareness to the community about everything the Richmond Raiders do on and off the field,” Suggs, a Richmond County native, explained. ”I knew how much this (competition) would mean to the team, school and the community. It was a great chance for everyone in Richmond County to work together for a common goal.

“I knew we had the best fan base in the state and how competitive Raiders are on and off the field,” he added. “We knew that we could win the contest if we utilized our digital assets to the fullest.”

Suggs helps operate the Richmond Raider football accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and has helped establish accounts for the cheerleading team. Halfway through the voting period, the addition of the Raiders’ official website “solidified the team’s entire digital foundation.”

Till added that the Suggs’ efforts “have been nothing short of incredible in helping us.” 

“(Chad) ensured that the message got out every day and stayed on the forefront of everyone's mind,” Till said. “He was very positive with the message, even when they took down the leaderboard. People could have gotten discouraged by that, but Chad just kept pumping the positive message. We are very thankful for him.”

“I was on the phone with a Panthers’ executive when the contest ended,” Suggs recalled. “When he told me the Raiders were one of the winners, I yelled and gave a big fist pump.

“I was so happy for the entire community because it was them who made this happen. It made me so proud to see how committed everyone was to get this massive win.”

With 24 new SpeedFlex helmets coming the Raiders’ way, not only will players and their safety benefit in the years to come, but it’s also a financial win for the high school’s athletic program. Till said in order to field a program of roughly 150 players across three teams (freshman, junior varsity and varsity), approximately 200 helmets are needed for sizing and breakage purposes.

High school football helmets are required to be replaced after 10 years, and Till explained in order to keep 200 helmets, Richmond has to buy at least 20 helmets per year. However, helmets “do tear up prior to that 10 years, and certain parts wear out.”

“We recondition all of our helmets every year to ensure our players’ safety,” Till noted. “The fact that we don't have to make our helmet purchase this year will have a huge savings for our athletic department and that money can be spread amongst all sports here.”

Richmond currently has a mixture of Riddell’s Speed and SpeedFlex helmets, the latter of which runs at a price of $409.99 per lid. The next time the football program buys helmets, the head coach explained, it will be able to purchase 20 of the higher-end SpeedFlex models.

While the new helmets and the title of victor are a nice bonus, what Till and Suggs are most proud of is the continued progress of the community and the football team “making their link stronger.” What’s become the team’s slogan the last two seasons, the outpouring of community support has been much appreciated by all those involved within the Raider football family.

“We’re extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in the contest to show how strong that link really is,” Suggs said. “Coach Till, the staff and the players are committed to making their link strong and it shows with their play on the field and the way they carry themselves off the field.

“The goal of the program is to make that connection with the community stronger every day,” he closed. “And the result will be a community that strives for greatness.”

Last modified on Sunday, 20 October 2019 20:36

Kyle Pillar

Three-time award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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