Washington coach adheres to district policy, stops leading prayer after game

Washington coach adheres to district policy, stops leading prayer after game

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Washington coach adheres to district policy, stops leading prayer after game

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Coach Joe Kennedy talks to his team following the game (Photo: Heather Graf, KING5)

Coach Joe Kennedy talks to his team following the game (Photo: Heather Graf, KING5)

BREMERTON, Wash. — The Bremerton School District said it will not punish a football coach for having prayed after games, as long as Joe Kennedy stops leading the prayers from this point forward.  So as the Bremerton Knights took the field on Friday evening, all eyes were on Kennedy, who is an assistant coach for the team.

In the end, Kennedy chose to adhere to the district policy.  He addressed his players and the crowd after the game, but didn’t pray. Many students responded to his passionate speech — which didn’t mention God — by saying “Amen.”

“I don’t even know if there’s words for that,” Kennedy said, getting emotional when asked what the players’ support meant to him.  “These guys are so incredible.  I love every one of them.”

Nearly an hour after the game, Kennedy told KING 5 he waited until the lights were out and he was the only person left in the stadium.  Then, he walked to the 50-yard-line, alone, and bowed his head in prayer.  The decision to adhere to district policy did not come easy for the longtime coach, who has prayed after games for years.

“My personal faith is my personal faith, and everybody on the team knows where I stand,” he said.

Earlier in the day he said he planned to follow the district policy, but would not ensure that he could.

“You know the Lord works in mysterious ways,” said Kennedy, “I have been a loose cannon from time to time.”

The speech went as follows:

“This is something we said in the Olympic league long ago: everybody that comes out here takes a knee.  Because these are the warriors that competed for the past 48 minutes.  And no matter what that score says, at the end of the game, we are about the legacy that we’re leaving, and everybody that came before, behind – it’s all about the young men we’re developing today, and all about the sport.  I love you guys, the coaches give everything for you,” Kennedy said.  “This is about the game, this is about the students, and developing our youth.”

Students began cheering as Kennedy’s speech came to a close.

“We put this place on the map,” he said, as people in the crowd began applauding and saying “Amen”.

Kennedy said after coaching in the district for nine years, he did not know coaches were prohibited from encouraging (or discouraging) student prayers.

Kennedy said he was told he’d be fired if he kept leading the prayers he’s always held after games. He was typically joined by coaches and players from both teams.

If he had prayed with players Friday night, Kennedy said he expected to lose his job.

That’s why people packed the stands at the game, to show their support.

“I think a coach after a ball game should be able to go to the 50-yard-line and say a prayer if he chooses to,” said Kathy Sorensen.  “It’s very sad to me that our world has come to this.”

 Representative Jesse Young (R-Bremerton) said he plans on introducing legislation to give coaches immunity when it comes to engaging with students in prayer.

Kennedy said he would be glad to testify in Olympia in favor of the bill.

He respects the law and policy, but thinks what he has been doing with players is harmless.

“If a kid is wanting to take a knee and a coach comes over and prays with him, that’s a powerful thing. That’s supporting the kid,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy said his prayers are optional.

He said one of the team captains does not believe in God and does not have to participate.

Wesley Bonetti, co-founder of the Kitsap Atheists & Agnostics, said while the coach considers the prayers voluntary, his players may feel differently.

“They could feel pressured to join if they didn’t believe or if they believed something else or if they wanted to pray in private,” said Bonetti.

 

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