Each of the 32 coaches responding to a Times Free Press poll who now work for a public school program in Tennessee, Georgia or Alabama professed to be Christian, and all said they endorse some form of team prayer. Here is what some of them had to say:
"Me personally, I'm a Christian so the more people you get following Christ the better our society is. I understand we can't speak about it as much openly. We just lead by example. Some of the kids know how we feel, so if they come to talk to us, our door's open to talk about God. Here in Cleveland there's a church on every street corner. I'm biased, I'm on one side and I believe you should be able to pray if you want. It's how I grew up and it's how most every kid on our team is brought up. We'll keep on until our administration says to stop."
-- Bradley Central coach Damon Floyd
"I'm a pretty liberal Democrat when it comes to politics so I can see both views. But I also know we're in the South and it's not just the majority, it's the great majority of people who want to pray. When it comes to the differences in this region and the folks outside the South and how we view religion, we don't understand them and they don't understand us."
-- East Ridge coach Tracy Malone
"When we lock hands after a game or practice, prayer starts. Are we doing anything negative to affect a kid? Those people are in the minority of our society. It's time for the majority to step up and tell them they're infringing on us. What they don't understand [is] it's freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. One of the reasons society is so jacked up, you're attacking people who are trying to do something good and wholesome for kids."
-- East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood
"This is a country that's supposedly ruled by majority, but it bothers me that the minority is ruling this decision. It really, really bothers me. They threaten a lawsuit and the school boards bow. It's embarrassing to me that this country gives in like that. I don't think saying a prayer for the kids to stay healthy is forcing anything on anybody. If I was in a Muslim setting and everyone bowed, I would respect what the majority did and not say a word."
-- Sequatchie County coach Ken Colquette
"I grew up about 30 miles outside of Detroit and it would be hard to explain to the people I knew up north just how ingrained Christianity is in the Southern culture. Not that they don't have Christianity up north, but it's more of a strong Catholic presence, while in the South it's more Baptists and it's certainly not as much a way of life for the vast majority the way it is here. I think part of it is groups outside here don't get just how big it is and what it's like here in the South. There's a reason it's called the Bible Belt. Church and Christianity in general is a much bigger part of the culture."
-- Lookout Valley coach Tony Webb, who added there are five Christian-based private schools in Hamilton County alone, noting that as a reflection of how important faith is in the area
"I have no idea why some of these organizations want to stick their nose in our affairs down here. Misery loves company maybe. This area is always going to be a Christian area, and while you don't want to single anybody out when they don't believe the same way, it's still freedom of religion and you may have a mass riot if you tried to stop people from praying completely."
-- McMinn Central coach Josh Goodin
"As coaches we pray in my office before every game and the players have a student-led prayer in the locker room. We're in the Bible Belt and we're still going to pray. If somebody wants to stop what we're doing, they'll have to get into our locker room, and I don't let people I don't know into our locker room."
-- Howard coach Michael Calloway
"We as Christians have lost some freedoms by sitting around and allowing the laws to change instead of standing up. The reason I became a coach was so that I could help be a positive influence on young people. Sports are going to end at some point, regardless of whether it's after the high school level or in the pros, but the men you become through that journey in sports will last a lifetime."
-- Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis
"We pray the Lord's prayer before games. I pray with them every chance I get, and I'll keep doing it until they tell me I can't. A lot of our players don't attend church, so it's very important for me to live it. We should be urgent about leading these young men to Christ. If they tell me I can't do it and work here, I'll go find somewhere else to work."
-- Central coach John Allen
"A group of kids came to me and asked us before the season if we could be sure to say the Lord's Prayer before games. It's a part of our kids' lives. The minority seems to get more done and that's a shame. There's literally a church on every corner. On my way home from school every day I pass four churches."
-- Soddy-Daisy coach Justin Barnes
"We openly share our faith with our players. It's not mandatory, but every Thursday we have a youth minister that comes in for a Bible study with the kids. They don't have to stay, but about every kid does. We don't tippy-toe around it and I'm proud of that. We're not bashful, and we're not going to hide it."
-- Walker Valley coach Glen Ryan
"There are lots of times I would like to have a ,devotional with the kids, but you can't do that in a public school. When I coached at Boyd-Buchanan we always had devotionals and I could even lead those. I miss getting to be a part of that with the kids. That was one of the toughest transitions to a public school."
-- Ringgold coach and athletic director Robert Akins
"I understand and appreciate people have different beliefs, so I know we need to be cognizant of those and do it in a way that doesn't offend anyone. But we want those who still want to be involved to be able to do that. Sports are a microcosm of our culture. Sometimes it's a struggle to follow what's expected of us as far as the legal environment."
-- Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe coach Todd Windham
"I'm a believer and I want to be able to express my beliefs, but in this day and age it's tough to balance it legally. It's not just about the game, it's about teaching these kids what life is about and giving them the tools to handle life after high school, and faith is a big part of it."
-- Hixson coach Jason Fitzgerald
"This is a very faith-based community. I always said I'd quit coaching when they didn't let me pray with the kids."
-- Cleveland coach Ron Crawford
"We do a lot of praying, and we've never had an issue over it. We do it on practice days and before and after games."
-- Ider coach Brent Tinker
"We have an optional devotional before our pregame meal, but pretty much every single kid attends it every week. I've coached in three different Southern states and I can tell you church is just really important to a lot of folks in this area."
-- Ooltewah coach Mac Bryan
"We're all about praying. We have to do it the way the law says, but we're all for it. You can't make it mandatory, but this is the South and that's the way it should be."
-- Sale Creek coach Ron Cox
"It's very important in the South. We will continue it until someone tells me we can't do it. I think it's one of the most important things we can teach the boys. They expect it here."
-- Signal Mountain coach Bill Price
"It's not even something I have to do. In a rural area like we're in, we're pretty much at 100 percent participation in student-led prayer every day. Like anything else, if somebody tries to take something away, it's only going to make more people rally to fight to keep it."
-- Bledsoe County coach Jason Reel
"It's different after coaching at a private Christian school (Battle Ground Academy) for so long. I find it difficult that the coaches can't participate, but I just had to accept it. It's a shame you can't be open with it anymore like you should be able to and that the government steps in to take prayer away when the majority still wants it."
-- South Pittsburg coach Tim Moore
"It's not something I ever thought would become an issue when I started coaching 31 years ago. Back then we would pray before games on the sideline. Now it's gotten to the point where you have to be more careful, even in a small county like ours that's mostly Christian."
-- Marion County coach Mac McCurry
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 23 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including nine in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation at the Associated ...