NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – Baltimore Ravens running back and former New Rochelle High School football star Ray Rice addressed the hundreds of gray-shirted children seated in the bleachers.
Before he led the enthusiastic youngsters in a day of fun football activities, he told them that they would participate in a footrace with him at the end of the day, and whoever could beat him would receive $100.
The announcement from the smiling Rice elicited wild cheers from the children.
Fun and smiles were the order of the day on Saturday as Rice led his annual Ray Rice Day for the third time at his former school. Rice said the focus of the morning should not be on him, but on the children.
“The name is Ray Rice Day but it’s all about the kids,” Rice said. “I take delight out of it. I just give it back to these children. That’s all it’s about for me.”
The festivities concluded with a ceremony in which the school retired Rice’s jersey, No. 5. Rice wore that number in honor of his cousin, who died in a car accident.
Rice discussed the ceremony hours before it occurred.
“It’s going to be a real emotional day for me,” Rice said. “Not only do I get my jersey retired but it’s in remembrance of my cousin who was killed in a car accident, which was a very touching story. Somehow, mathematically, the number 27, I can still get back to five. So that’s how I always thought about it.”
Rice wears No. 27 for the Ravens.
Rice’s family, friends and former coaches spoke lovingly of the Pro Bowl running back’s character.
Huguenots coach Lou DiRienzo, who coached Rice on New Rochelle’s state championship team in 2006, said his former player has changed as an athlete, but his heart is as big as it ever was.
“The beautiful thing is he hasn’t changed in terms of a person,” DiRienzo said. “He hasn’t lost a sense of where he is. As an athlete, he obviously grew at every level … What’s changed is how much better he’s gotten at each and every level, and rises to the challenge. In terms of his personality, he’s the same old Ray.”
DiRienzo has a unique perspective on Rice, as he has watched him grow throughout his career. But to this day he still sees the same joy and enthusiasm in the star running back. That, he said, is what separates Rice from others like him.
“A lot of guys do things like this. Ray is intimately involved with each and every kid,” DiRienzo said. “You’ll see him throughout the day running around with the kids. He genuinely loves kids. He loves to get his message across.”
The message is that Rice once sat where they sit today and is now a professional football player. If he can achieve that dream, their dream, they can accomplish whatever they want.
Rice’s cousin, Clark Campbell, helped him run the camp on Saturday. Campbell said the hundreds of people wearing Rice jerseys and Ray Rice Day T-shirts speak to his cousin’s personality as a people person.
But the gigantic event, he said, is second nature to Rice.
“This sums him up as a person,” Campbell said. “He’s all about community, family and this is what he loves to do. This is just natural. It’s natural for him. It’s not a front. It’s not for publicity. This is just him as just the person he is. That’s how he was raised and he does this. This is nothing to him.”