Separation of church and state may be the reason courts are eliminating prayer
in schools, but local athletic rivals are choosing to find time for prayer after games.
“There is a great story of how God has been closed off to the schools,” said Fellowship of Christian Athletes Northwest Ohio campus director Matt Medina.
“The total foundation of the school system has been found by Christianity and God, and all of a sudden since I was in school it sorted started to phase away. All of a sudden, we’ve got this great group of kids that just want to help bring prayer back into the sports,”
Genoa and Eastwood teams have huddled at mid-court, mid-field, or what have you, after every varsity football and basketball game. They did it again Wednesday night after a baseball game.
“We would meet in the middle after a game and praise God for the opportunity to play, and kind of unite after a game where you just tried to knock out the player, and then after the game you are holding hands with them praying. That is something really special,” said Genoa three-sport athlete Luke Sutter, an officer with the school’s FCA chapter.
It started after the 2008 football game, which Genoa won.
“It was actually right after the game,” said Sutter. “We were shaking hands, and as we were going through we just mentioned it to some of their players like
Clay Rolf, and some of those guys that are leaders there, and they said, ‘Yeah’ right away. I think they must have asked (Eastwood coach) Mr. (Jerry) Rutherford, and I think he was open to it because he and (Genoa) Coach (Mike) Vicars are good friends and they respect each other. I thought that was real neat, too.
“We invited them, and I think we invited a lot of teams, but you know some of them and their coaches don’t feel like it’s the thing to do. They actually joined, and it was really neat, for a team like Eastwood with so much respect. It’s kind of neat that both teams are kind of powerhouses in the SLL, I think,” Sutter continued.
“I think it took a lot of courage for some of the Eastwood players, and that’s not the easiest thing to do. After playing one of your rivals and losing, to go out there and pray with them at the 50-yard line. I have great respect for everybody over there. I think that’s a class act and a class program that they run over there.”
It continued at the basketball games, including this year’s contests won by Eastwood.
“I remember this year, at Genoa, we lost in basketball to Eastwood and it was a great game. They had a 3-pointer at the end. We had I don’t know how many lead changes, but it was a great. After the game we got down on our knees and prayed with Eastwood,” Sutter said.
“I remember, it was one of the cooler moments in any of my sports career. When I got up we were all hugging, kind of, and shaking hands with them. About everyone who was left in the stands, and both sides, Eastwood and Genoa, they all stood up and clapped, and I was thinking to myself that it’s funny how you play these sports, and you are going after it, and everybody wants to win and nobody wants to lose, and you are opponents, but after the game you can hold hands with the other team that you just played against and just rejoice and praise God for the opportunity to be there, I thought that was just one of the neater things I’ve seen.”
It took a 1989 Clay grad, Medina, to get it started. Medina, who served as Genoa FCA chaplain a couple years back, urged Sutter to approach the Eastwood team. Medina, a member of FCA since he first became a student at Clay in 1986, is currently working on his Ministry degree at Ohio Christian University.
“I didn’t know a lot about the rivalry or anything like that because I grew up in the GLL and my rivalry was Whitmer and Clay. We get into this rivalry week of Eastwood and Genoa and there are 5,000 people there,” Medina said.
“The first one was kind of impromptu. Of course, everything in the game was pretty one-sided, and at the end of the game I go, ‘Hey Luke, make sure you invite Eastwood over to pray with us at the end of the game. They have a very strong FCA and you should go up and ask them to pray.’
“Luke walked over to Jerry and he goes, ‘Hey, excuse me, would you mind praying with us?’ Jerry talked to a couple guys, and he brought the guys over and they prayed with us.”
Medina, an assistant baseball coach at Toledo Christian under former Major League pitcher Ron Rightnowar, said his baseball team prays after games with Cardinal Stritch and Gibsonburg, too.
“That’s a big thing because Gibsonburg is coming into the TAAC, and that’s one of my schools that I participate in. They pray with us after baseball games. Stritch actually, and of course they are a Catholic school, and they are not known to pray with other schools, but a couple weeks ago their JV team prayed with us, and that’s a rivalry because the two schools play against each other in the same league,” Medina said.
Medina remembers having prayer as a football player at Clay under former coach John “J.J.” Johnson.
“I remember on the back of our football practice shirts at the two-a-days was ‘I’m Third,’ which is just a great God and Christian message. He (Johnson) loved it,” Medina said. “I’m not sure if that’s where he got it from, if it was Biblical, or from Brian Piccolo, because that’s from when Gale Sayers came out with that book about Brian Piccolo (1971), ‘Brian’s Song.’”