Mariakis is at the center of a controversy over separation of church and state. Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group, says Mariakis has breached the First Amendment by allowing churches to serve meals — and preach — to the football team; holding prayers after games; placing scripture on team clothing; and holding Christian football camps in the summer. The foundation filed its complaint Tuesday, Aug. 21.
The Facebook page, called Support Coach Mariakis, is seeking a show of support during the Ridgeland High Panther’s first home game, which will be played Sept. 14. The page was started by recent Ridgeland graduates Adrian Hullander, Cole Chapman and Jared Deberry.
As of early Friday afternoon, the page was approaching 5,500 “likes.”
The predominant sentiment among the postings is praise for Mariakis’ dedication to faith and children, along with praying for him. Statewide support is flowing from Georgia and Tennessee, along with a few who have picked up on the story as it went national.
“During (my) four years on the football I don't recall coach Mariakis ever leading us in prayer,” Jared Deberry said. “It was usually led by Rocky Bradford the team Chaplin or a fellow teammate.”
“Prayer is a tradition at Ridgeland High School not just for football but every single sport,” Cole Chapman said. “Coach Mariakis was not a judgmental person if you were not of the same religion/beliefs as him then he would be totally understanding of that.”
YouTube video: Coach Mariakis tackle tumor
“Not one single person was forced into prayer, and if any one felt uncomfortable they could be excused,” he said.
“Coach Mariakis is an example of what I think a football coach should be like,” wrote Matthew Daniel, a former team manager when Mariakis was assistant coach at Chattooga. “Never once did he ever force Christianity on anyone. Yes, he talked about the Lord very regularly during pre-game speeches, but everyone responded to it very positively.”
“Someone is shoving their version of the constitution down our throats like they say religion has been forced on them, for this I am sorry” Terry Davenport wrote.” Why can't they see their conduct calls us to more prayer, faith tells us God can fix this.”
“I think it is time we as Christians stand up for our rights and stop being shut down by others,” Cristy Prince of LaFayette wrote. “I am proud of this coach and what he is doing for his players. What does this anti-religion committee want, more kids on drugs and violence and shootings? When you take moral value out of their lives, that is the end result, I don’t understand these people who want to take Gods love and love in general out of kids lives.”
The most recent posting from one of the three creators: “I have a feeling that this FFRF group is waking up a sleeping giant.”