My name is Fred Ray. I lived in southern West Virginia and northeastern Kentucky for 10 of my adult years. I graduated high school from Martins Ferry High School in Ohio, and then went on to be a quarterback at Ohio University, where I lettered four years and earned a bachelor’s degree. I also hold a master’s degree in Special Education, an Educational Leadership Certification, and have been an educator for six years. I am currently the head varsity football coach for Bridgeport High School, a teacher, a Christian, a son, a brother, an uncle and a proud African American.
I am going into my seventh football season and have put the headset on for 66 games. Out of those 66 games, only on four occasions (two in Ohio, two in Kentucky), was the head coach in the headset across from me African American. A common question I am asked on game nights is, “Are you the head coach?” On multiple occasions, my assistant coach has been approached as the head coach, forcing him to direct them to me. This should not happen to any head coach. It is professional to take the time to learn your opponents before stepping on the field. Know not only who the head coach is, but their name and be prepared to address them. The information is readily available. There are no excuses.
In two out of the three schools I have been blessed to be employed, I was the only African American teacher. One thing I want people to know is that I was hired in those positions because I was qualified and the best candidate for the job. I strongly believe schools and other employers should not hire African Americans to simply fill a need for a minority. To me, that’s just saying, “You’re here because it makes us look better to have you.” Hire an African American if they are the very best candidate for the job, and because you truly believe in them and their capabilities.
One night while I was living in southern West Virginia, I was coming home late from Bible study. My vehicle was surrounded by multiple police officers as I pulled into my apartment because I fit the description of a man they were looking for. For me personally, it was a troubling experience because nothing like that had ever happened to me before. I was asked several questions about who I was and where I had come from, as well as what I was doing. I was sitting in front of my own residence.
I am who I am because of the strong people that God has placed in my life, starting with my parents. My family was loving, encouraging and strong. I was taught hard work at a young age and I never doubted my abilities.
I want people to know that this is not a new issue just because it is trending. Racism is real, and it has always been real. The system was broken at its inception and never healed. Hate has been the message for centuries in a world that so desperately needs love. Be someone who changes lives. Do not be afraid to be who you are and be proud. You can be and do anything you set your mind to.
“I am not concerned with you liking or disliking me. All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” — Jackie Robinson
FRED RAY is the football coach at Bridgeport (Ohio) High School. The Martins Ferry, Ohio native was the football coach at Fairview from 2014-17, in which role he coached in what is believed to be the first varsity football game in eastern Kentucky matching two black head coaches in 2017.