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Alumni honor teen who died after crash

The Ridgewood High School alumni football game is named for Jimmy Priest.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- All the emotions, all the thrills and all of the trash-talking leading up to tonight's inaugural Ridgewood High School alumni football game will have to take a backseat to something far more important:

Honoring Jimmy Priest, the Ridgewood sophomore and quarterback who died Friday from injuries he suffered in an April 3 accident on U.S. 19.

Which is why organizers have named tonight's 7 p.m. contest at the school's Ram Booster Stadium the first annual Jimmy Priest Memorial Alumni Game.

"I've been talking to all the players, and all of the alumni players, and they thought it would be a great idea," said organizer Donnie Britt, Class of '90, who will play center and coach the orange team tonight.

"(Jimmy) was going to run the show at Ridgewood this year. He was going to be the man at quarterback. We'd like to play it in his honor and give his family a memory every year we play it."

Ridgewood football coach Wayne Parzik spoke to the Priest family and said they gave permission for their son's name to be used.

"The parents are bearing up as well as possible," Parzik said. "Probably one of the biggest things helping them is they're getting a lot of feedback from players on the team about their son, and that's helping."

Organizers hope the family will be in attendance.

The orange-white scrimmage game, scheduled months in advance, coincides with Priest's funeral today at 11 a.m. at St. James The Apostle Catholic Church in Port Richey. He will be buried at Trinity Memorial Gardens.

Britt said he remembered the 16-year-old Priest from his days playing Police Athletic League youth football.

"He was a pretty sharp kid," Britt said. "I'm hoping that people who want to help remember him will come to the game and help us kick this thing off in Jimmy's memory."

Priest suffered head injuries in the accident while driving home from school. It was on Friday when his father, James Priest Sr., a former candidate for the Port Richey City Council, and the family were told by doctors at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg that Jimmy was not going to recover, family friend Bill Bennett said. Life support was discontinued.

About 60 graduates will play in the Ridgewood alumni game, which was inspired by the Gulf High School alumni game, now in its second incarnation. The two alumni teams are scheduled to play each other in December. Like its Gulf counterpart, this game is also a fundraiser for the school's athletic programs and the organizers hope to boost interest in the football program.

Now they have another, unexpected goal to fulfill.

"We want the family to know we're thinking about them," Britt said. "We still feel like he's a part of us, a part of our football program."

If you go

WHAT: First annual Jimmy Priest Memorial Alumni Game.

WHERE: Ram Booster Stadium, Ridgewood High School.

WHEN: 7 tonight.

ADMISSION: $4 adults, $2 children; all proceeds go to Ridgewood athletics.

NEED TO KNOW: The orange team will be coached by Donnie Britt, Class of 1990, who helped organize the game, and former Florida State standout Jeff Dermer, Class of '88. The white team will be led by quarterback/coach Bill Linderman, Class of '88, and Frank Berardi, Class of '88. The Rams have had just one winning season (6-4 in 1985) in the program's 16-year history. So some lucky alums could earn their first (or second) winning season tonight. Predicted Linderman: "Ridgewood guarantees victory."

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