After a high school football coach was seen praying for players before each game, an atheist group filed a formal complaint, warning the coach to stop the religious display. Although the coach apologized and promised to cease, his students weren’t about to be forced into silence.
Before each game, Rockvale High School football coach Rick Rice would pray over his players and the opposing team. Of course, the prayers were never mandatory and only meant as a positive and unifying activity. Despite no qualms from any of the students, a single complaint from an indignant parent was all it took to land the coach and the school district in hot water.
It’s a common occurrence for sports teams to hold a short prayer before each game, as the coaches intercede for safety and sportsmanship on behalf of their young players. However, for the Tennessee high school, it’s not just a long-standing routine but a part of their culture.
Thanks to an anonymous parent’s tip, the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a formal complaint against the school, accusing the district of violating the Constitution by allowing coach Rick Rice to lead students in prayer, according to WZTV. Fearful of a major lawsuit, the Rutherford County school system “addressed the issue” with Rice, who immediately apologized and ceased the pre-game prayers in order to keep his job and avoid any legal action against the school.
“Any prayers or religious activities must be student-initiated and student-led. Employees are not to lead the activities or participate other than to provide supervision,” the county said in a statement.
Although the FFRF had effectively silenced coach Rice, the students weren’t about to remain silent. Since coach Rice is confined by the law, his own players and team staff members decided to pick up where he left off.
Rockvale students Madison Nowacki and La’Naya Nelson have announced plans to host a group prayer each evening before kickoffs. The student-lead prayers are open to the public and will occur on the track that encircles the football field, ensuring that the FFRF doesn’t end the religious tradition, according to Daily News Journal.
“We have been talking about wanting to pray with our team for a while, but we were scared at first,” Nowacki said. “After the complaint, we thought we should voice our opinions as well and stand with our coach.”
Nowacki slammed the FFRF and the parent who tipped them off. She argues that it only took a few offended individuals who aren’t even involved in the prayers to ruin it for everyone else.
“I believe that the complaint was very unnecessary and it upsets me to see it,” Nowacki said. “Coach Rice is an amazing, outgoing and hardworking coach. … It was a prayer to heal the boys, and make sure they stayed strong.”
Since Nowacki and Nelson both have a brother who plays on the team, they believed that the best way to support the players was to act as a stand-in for coach Rice. Now, the prayers are scheduled to go ahead as planned without interference from the FFRF or an offended parent.
“Those are our friends on the field, and with the guidance of God we believe they will make it out and play harder, smarter and stronger,” Nowacki said.
Despite attempts to silence coach Rice, the offended individuals have only inspired the young people to continue his short legacy. The FFRF’s plot to stop the prayers has backfired as students are rising up in defiance of those attacking their freedoms.