Patriotism, gratitude — and a helicopter — in the air during FBA’s inaugural Salute to Service

Jacob Dever, appropriately wearing No. 50, carries the American flag onto the field before First Baptist Academy's Sept. 20 home game against Community School of Naples. GREGG HARDY/CSI

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published on Sept. 27, 2019.


The Lions’ pass attack wasn’t the only aerial performance last Friday night at First Baptist Academy.

Just before the hosts bombarded Community School of Naples with five touchdown passes in a 47-14 victory, the FBA community paid homage to local first responders and retired and active military with its inaugural Salute to Service. The pregame festivities (which included a ceremonial coin toss by 95-year-old Florence Weinstein, who served during World War II) were punctuated by a flyover, courtesy of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.

Two years in the making, Salute to Service was the idea of FBA assistant coach Patrick Dearborn, a veteran of the United States Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

Dearborn credited many people for helping to make the event happen. Among them: head football coach and FBA athletic director Bill Sparacio, assistant athletic director Cindy Murphy, booster president Scott Leahman, FBA teachers, staff and other coaches, Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, and Amy and Jim Ridinger, the parents of Lions sophomore Jimmy Ridinger.

“My hope is that other schools see this, (it) becomes a tradition, and they try to copy it,” said Dearborn, who admitted to being choked up during the entire ceremony. “When something good happens, other schools are going to go, ‘I want to do that.’”

Also honored before the game were spouses and parents of those who have died while serving.

FBA assistant coach Patrick Dearborn, center, escorts Florence Weinstein off the field following Salute to Service pregame festivities. At right is Kimberly Anderson, a board member of Gulf Coast Veterans.

As the Lions burst onto the field, three players served as flag bearers: senior Jacob Dever carried the Stars and Stripes; junior Colby Gonzalez carried the “Thin Blue Line” American flag that honors law enforcement; and freshman Cade Mitchell carried the POW/MIA flag. Making the moment more powerful, Dearborn (who personally selected each flag bearer) said Mitchell’s dad, Lions assistant coach Ryan Mitchell, came over with tears in his eyes and told him that his own father was a prisoner of war.

(Last Friday was national POW/MIA Recognition Day. Dearborn said there were former POWs in attendance.)

Said Sparacio: “I hope (this) was a real honor to those who we were hoping to honor — police officers, firefighters, EMT, all those first responders, and then obviously retired and current military people.”

PHOTO GALLERY: View images, including game photos, from FBA’s Salute to Service

Sparacio had the best of both worlds. He got to share in the pride of hosting the event while remaining focused on his coaching duties. (The Lions are undefeated, you know.)

For that, he gave a special thank-you to Murphy.

“Absolutely unbelievable, the job she does week in and week out,” Sparacio said. “Being able to make this happen, that’s her … so I get to coach. She does so much.”

The pride and respect for service shown by FBA students — many clad in red, white and blue, chanting “USA, USA” — was particularly noticeable. It got Sparacio and Dearborn’s attention.

“These are high school kids, man,” Sparacio said. “They could be doing whatever they want, and they’re cheering for their buddies and getting all dressed up in stars and stripes. … I love it. It’s great for our school. It accomplished everything we wanted it to.”

Said Dearborn: “I am blown away at how nice these kids (are) — their manners, their respect, their ‘thank-you, ma’am’ … . It made me feel so good.

“Seeing our students so patriotic, hearing our students treat these (first responders and veterans) with respect, this is what Friday night football was like when I played football. This is the way it’s supposed to be — a fun, family must-do event for Friday night, and I’m hoping that other schools will catch on and do this.”

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