A higher power, not fire power
Religion in professional sports is nothing new.
San Francisco Giants future Hall of Fame slugger Barry Bonds points toward the sky after home runs. Countless football players ‘ in college and the National Football League ‘ have knelt in the end zone after scoring a touchdown. Before almost every professional auto racing event, there’s an invocation for a safe race, not to mention the troops in harm’s way.
But for generations at the high school level, most prayers were kept hidden in the locker room as a sacred part of a team’s tradition, locked away like a secret play book.
One of the memorable scenes in the movie ‘Hoosiers’ takes place in the locker room when Preacher Purl offers up a verse from the Bible just moments before the tiny Hickory Huskers take to the court against powerful South Bend Central in the state championship basketball game: ‘And David put his hand in the bag and took out a stone and slung it. And it struck the Philistine on the head and he fell to the ground. Amen.’
In recent years, however, a slew of high school squads ‘ including girls basketball teams from Corydon Central, North Harrison and Lanesville, Lanesville’s softball team and North Harrison’s football team, to name a few ‘ have called upon a higher power before their games begin. At Orleans High School, a prayer is said over the PA system before athletic contests. At Providence High, win or lose, in whatever sport, the Pioneers gather for a post-game prayer.
For the secular world, this seems a bit odd.
Does God really care who wins a high school basketball game? Does He help the offensive player who scored the touchdown any more than the defender who just got burned? Does He give Jeff Gordon a few extra laps from a tank of fuel?
Does God appreciate a double-play any more than He does an error, or help the free throw shooter who crosses himself any more than He does the guy who tries a half-court shot at the buzzer?
Any religious athlete will tell you the answer is no.
‘When we prayed (at North Harrison), it was to keep us all safe and give us strength,’ said North Harrison grad Tara Miller.
Miller was an Indiana All-Star this summer and will attend Indiana University this fall to play basketball for the Hoosiers. She said the prayers went one step further. ‘We would also pray for the refs to help keep them safe from the fans and help them call the best and fairest game possible.’
Miller tore her anterior cruciate ligament in November of 2004 and missed almost all of her senior season. For an athlete whose life revolved around the game, the loss of her much anticipated senior season was devastating.
‘Most people do not pray until something bad has happened to them. Our team has had a lot of problems during my four years with people getting hurt and family situations. I know my junior year, during sectional against Scottsburg, I thought that was going to be my last game ever because I have tumors in my leg, and the doctors told me that they thought that I had bone cancer. That was the worst thing that I thought could possibly happen to me,’ Miller said.
‘But God helped me through that and sure enough I did not get it, but my good friend, Ashley Fancher, did. And I could not believe how much strength she has had to get through it. She is a very strong girl.
‘When I tore my ACL, God was there for me and helped me to get to where I am today. I have worked hard to get here, but if it was not for the Lord above, I would not be here.
‘You do not know how much of a gift God has given to you until you have lost it. You should be thankful for your body and mentality that he has given you.’
One of Miller’s teammates who graduated in 2004, Abby Wells, was president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Her best friend, Lindsay Shroyer, was vice president.
Wells and Shroyer both competed in many sports at North Harrison.
‘We would write certain verses up on the board before games and just say short prayers together every now and then. Some people actually began to go to FCA meetings. It was cool,’ Wells said. ‘Standing for what you believe in high school is tough anyway, but the support of your team really helps.
‘Being able to fellowship during something you love doing ‘ playing sports ‘ just makes it that much better. It sounds kind of corny, I know, but with God on your side, losing is easier to stomach.’
According to several former athletes from Harrison County who were questioned about the subject, prayers before games are never directed toward giving one team an advantage over the other. Instead, it was for a safe, competitive event and for strength to compete at the highest level.
‘We just wanted to be safe out there,’ said Class of 2000 Corydon Lady Panther and Bellarmine Knight Lynne Johnson. ‘We prayed in high school and really didn’t think anything about it. It’s just what we did and what we still do at Bellarmine.
‘We figured praying never hurt.’