By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Star football players at Birmingham’s Ramsay and A.H. Parker High Schools may be on opposite sides of the ball Thursday, but they want everyone to know they’re on the same team.
Quarterbacks Malik Muhammad, Parker, and Tremell Washington, Ramsay, will face off in the first ever “Stop the Violence Classic” at Legion Field as the two schools meet at historic Legion Field.
The goal is to show two sides can battle without causing harm, say the athletes.
“With football, we’re going to have conflict on the field because it’s football, but at the end of the day, everybody should be able to go home in a safe environment,” said Muhammad, who lost an uncle to gun violence. He added that a number of his fellow classmates have shared similar losses.
School officials said 17 Birmingham City Schools (BCS) students have been lost to gun violence since January 2022.
Muhammad said the tragedy of gun violence has a way bringing the players together, “telling each other not to do certain stuff, or not to be mad about certain stuff … be more as a unit, just like how we are as a team in football,” said Muhammad, a senior.
Washington said he lost his stepfather Andres to gun violence last year and that the sportsmanship between the two teams on Thursday can serve as an example for kids and adults.
“If people can see how athletes can get along and play a football game, I feel like it’ll show them that we can do the same as adults; and as teenagers we can go somewhere and have fun,” Washington said.
When conflict arises outside of sports, it’s sometimes necessary to turn the other cheek, he added.
“You’re gonna have people out there … not always having good intentions, but you can’t always retaliate. Sometimes you just you’ve got to look at them and…and walk away. You can’t always fight back,” he said.
Coach Ronnie Jackson, of Ramsay, said the number of shooting deaths in the city has taken a toll on student athletes—”our kids, they’re suffering, they’re upset, they get frustrated.” The coach said he was proud the athletes came up with the idea to organize the game which is “very valuable to the city of Birmingham,” Jackson said.
Frank Warren, head coach at Parker, said he hopes the Classic “leads to more antiviolence events.”
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin thanked the students for their leadership and using their voices to push for nonviolence.
“Student athletes were the people we looked up to. Student athletes were the people who made an impression on the entire student body,” the mayor said. “Student athletes were the people … how they dress, what they talked about, where they went, where they hung out—that’s what everybody else wanted to do.”
While news stories detail the accounts of violence that come and go, it often stays daily with many young people, said Mark Sullivan, Ed.D., superintendent of Birmingham City Schools.
“These students, these cultures, they’re impacted by the violence every day…Both of these schools [Ramsay and Parker], over the past few years, have experienced students who have been killed, and [the classic is] larger than a game, and it’s really about how we as a community can come together, learn how to solve problems that don’t end in someone taking someone’s life,” said Sullivan, who added he was proud that students are “using their platforms to really push out positive messaging” and leaders should pay more attention to what young people say.
“We need to make sure that we are listening… because some of the best ideas that we can implement come from the minds of young people,” said the superintendent.
The “Stop the Violence Classic” will be held at Legion Field on Thursday at 7 p.m. It will also be carried via the BCS livestream, YouTube and the NFHS Network through BCS Under the Lights.