Some public high school football coaches in South Carolina are reportedly pressuring players to convert to fundamentalist Christianity.
“We end every practice with the Lord’s Prayer,” Assistant Coach Bucky Davis of Hemingway High School in Hemingway, S.C., told the Florence News. “Before and after every game, we do the Lord’s Prayer, and we try to do a devotion every week.”
In addition, some coaches are taking players to fundamentalist Christian training camps where they are pressured to become “born again.”
The newspaper reported that coaches from all over the state took players to a three-day summer football camp in Spartanburg sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). The event included instruction about football during the day and a heavy dose of proselytism in the evenings. Devotions were held every night.
“We’ve done it two years in a row, and it’s the best thing we ever did,” Hemingway Coach Ken Cribb said. “We brought 36 kids, and 32 of them gave themselves to Christ.”
Another coach, J.R. Boyd of Lamar High School, said, “We went to church as a team one time, and I found out that many of our kids had never seen the inside of a church. We went to FCA camp as well and many of our kids were saved in the process.”
Davis insisted that players convert of their own free will, but critics have suggested that coaches, as authority figures, wield a disproportionate amount of influence over team members. Some players may also conclude that if they don’t pray, they won’t play.
Federal courts have ruled that coaches, teachers and other public school employees may not lead young people in prayer and other forms of religious worship. Americans United won a case like this earlier this year in New Jersey, where a football coach in East Brunswick insisted his practices of bowing his head and “taking a knee” with his team did not constitute religious activities. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.
Some school officials have grudgingly accepted that Protestant prayers are not right for everyone. Allie Brooks, a retired principal at Wilson High School, told the newspaper prayers were common at football games until the courts ruled against the practice. The school then switched to a moment of silence.
“Unfortunately, not everyone is a believer,” Brooks said.