It was routine as usual for the Galion High School football team after defeating Pleasant 42-6 in an away game last week.
The Tigers roughly lined up along the field, cheering and waving their helmets before fans, to celebrate another victory for the season. Eventually, the team gathered around on the Spartans’ field where head coach Chris Hawkins says his final remarks for the night.
But not before Rev. Joe Stafford of Wesley Chapel on Sixth Avenue, lead the Tigers in prayer with heads bowed and on one knee.
“I love to serve the kids,” the Galion marching band announcer said.
The team usually prays along when Stafford concludes with a recitation of the Lord’s prayer. He said the practice has been going on for the past four years.
The Tigers caught a little national attention last week when the Today showed footage of the the team praying after a game, which was recorded by tGalion Inquirer Editor Chris Pugh.
The television program aired the footage the same day when the team visited Pleasant along with other football teams praying, and was part of a segment about a Seattle-area high school football coach suspended for his post-game prayers.
Since 2008, Bremerton High School assistant coach Joe Kennedy has walked to the 50-yard line to offer a short prayer with students joining him voluntarily over the years, according to The Seattle Times. Earlier in October, the school district forbade the coach from openly praying before or after games. He refused and was placed on administrative leave but will stay employed with the school until his contract expires this December.
But Hawkins said high school football is more than just scoring touchdowns.
“We’re talking about developing (the boys) in all aspects,” he said. “This is just another aspect.”
“It’s not something forced upon anyone,” he added.
Stafford said he think’s its reasonable to leave it up to the players on whether they want to participate. With some team members approaching adulthood, he said they need the exposure to make their own decisions.
“My bias is that I want them to think this is good,” he said.
Stafford, himself, first heard the Lord’s prayer in the locker room when he played high school football in Detroit.
Additionally, Stafford said there are not as many cultural differences in Galion as there are in Columbus, Cleveland and other urban areas.
About 50.7 percent of Crawford County’s population has a religious affiliation, according to a 2010 census by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. The study includes 236 participating congregations with 49 percent of its adherents, or those have an affiliation with a congregation, make up the national population.
While the Catholic Church is the largest participating religious group in Crawford, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was the largest protestant group.
Stafford said it was strange that parts of the country are limiting prayer in public places but marijuana legalization was on the ballot in Ohio earlier this week.
“It just seems so odd that our culture is heading in that direction,” he said.
Nearly 2 million voters in Ohio voted down Issue 3 that would have legalized recreational and medicinal marijuana.
Galion Athletic Director Kyle Baughn said the school doesn’t mandate anything for its students when it comes to their rights.
“We’re about coaching our kids,” he said. “But I’m not going to tell them not to pray.”
Reach Klein at 419-468-1117, ext. 2048 or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.
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