Girls varsity soccer team huddled for team prayer before fall 2021 game. (courtesy of Victoria Garafolo)
Girls varsity soccer team huddled for team prayer before fall 2021 game.

courtesy of Victoria Garafolo

Pray before Play? How students feel about praying before games

May 19, 2022

Whether or not religion can be discussed in schools has been an ongoing debate for decades. Parents, teachers, and students of all cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs have argued that it is inappropriate to teach kids something that they don’t believe in a public learning environment. A newly discussed topic being brought into the debate is incorporating prayer before sporting events.

Last April of 2022, the Supreme Court heard a case regarding a high school football coach who claimed the right to kneel and pray at the 50 yard line during games. The school district asked him to stop but his refusal led to him losing his job. This has caused a lot of controversy across the country and left people wondering if prayer during high school sports is appropriate.

Prayer is an expression of individual belief. Students with a lot of faith like to say a prayer before important events to encourage themselves and make them feel secure in their responsibilities. Whether it’s isolated or in a group, many argue it’s not disrupting others and players worshiping should have the freedom to pray as it is stated in the constitution.

 

 

Pro: Students should have the right to prayer during athletic events

It’s game day and everyone is getting ready to warm up. Legs are trembling, players are pacing, rapid breathing can be heard throughout the bench. Performing in front of a crowd where your mistakes are displayed for all to see is not easy for anyone, especially high school athletes who already have low self esteem. Some athletes choose to listen to music and block everything out to focus and boost their self confidence. Nobody frowns upon that.

That leads to the question, why can’t prayer be used as a sense of security for players who need it? While it varies based on people’s beliefs, typically teens are praying to someone that they trust will help them through their hard times and keep them safe. If they know someone will be watching over them, nerves calm down. It would be unjust to take away that feeling from students.

Not only does prayer make certain individuals feel more comfortable before games, but some teams who share religious passion enjoy worshiping together. Before each match, the school’s girls varsity soccer team would huddle together and bow their heads to speak to the Lord. One player would lead the team in prayer and ask for the players to stay free of injuries and be led to a victory. While not everyone on the team shared the same views, they all participated with no opposition as it gave the team a sense of unity. The soccer team was like a family who respected each other and understood why they were in a prayer circle.

Sophomore Emily Purgason is an advocate for expressing religious belief in sports. Purgason was a member of the Varsity soccer team and in addition to the team prayer, had her own pre game ritual. Before each match she would draw a cross on her wrist to remind herself that God would be with her no matter what happened. She says it gives her comfort and allows her to play to her full potential. While she believes it should be allowed she thinks players should be allowed to opt out if they aren’t comfortable.

The prayer wasn’t always the same, but it was a general discussion, nothing too intimate. “We prayed over the game beforehand that our spirits would stay high, nobody got injured, and things worked out the way we wanted to,” Purgason said.

Along with boosting players’ confidence, it can promote tolerance among the team. It gives the team an opportunity to come together for something they believe in and teach players of other religions to be accepting of their teammates. 

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Con: Praying before games can negatively impact student athletes

While there are many benefits to prayer before games like boosting players’ confidence and expressing themselves, there are also some disadvantages to it as well. Group prayers before games can make students that aren’t religious feel excluded and uncomfortable.  

Prayer before games can boost confidence for some, but have the opposite effect for students with different beliefs. It can make them feel intimidated by their teammates and make them feel discouraged. Students can feel excluded during this time when it is meant to be a time for team bonding and preparation for an upcoming game. 

With this in mind, some students will choose to not participate in school sports events at all. If a student feels excluded from their team during a team-wide prayer, it could keep athletes from wanting to participate on the team in the future. 

Prayer before games would cause some students to sit out away from their team. In an article written by The Northwood Omniscient, a student said that she felt judged when she was sitting away from the team during their prayer. She stated that she felt like she shouldn’t participate and it feels exclusionary. Many other students in the US also feel like this considering there are many different religions that are practiced across the country and only select prayers are used before games, typically Christian prayers. 

Not only can prayer before games make student athletes feel uncomfortable and left out, it also violates the constitution, in some cases. The constitution forbids public school officials from directing or favoring prayer in their official capacities. Although, voluntary prayer is not unconstitutional so as long as students are given the option to participate, the constitution isn’t being violated. 

Students who don’t participate in prayer could be bullied by other players on their team. Praying before games can lead to intolerance and destroy team spirit. In order for a team to play well, it is important for everyone to be accepting of one another and get along. 

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