Students pray before game

Scores of fans and students joined Soddy-Daisy and Rhea County high school football players for a pregame prayer on the 50-yard line of the Rhea County stadium Friday night.

School board member Rhonda Thurman, who was not at the game, said she is proud of the students.

"I think that's wonderful," Thurman said. "I think that's their absolute right and praise God."

Loudspeaker prayers before football games at Hamilton County Schools were banned this week after a national organization admonished Hamilton County Schools administrators to ban the practice when some Soddy-Daisy students complained.

On Tuesday, Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Jim Scales banned the prayers in an e-mail, citing U.S. Supreme Court rulings that such prayers are unconstitutional.

Bimbo McCawley, a Rhea County School Board member, said the prayer was a way to show Scales they understood his between-a-rock-and-hard-place position.

"We live in the buckle of the Bible belt," McCawley said. "People in the community adhere to the beliefs. We did this out of respect for Dr. Scales because we realize he had no choice."

Danielle Clark, spokeswoman for Hamilton County Schools, could not be reached for comment Friday night.

Facebook groups erupted with thousands of members who were against the ban.

Fans were encouraged to join in the pregame prayer, which left both stands empty except for about 100 or so people who remained behind.

Football players took the field hand-in-hand, but it was unclear who was leading the prayer as students wanted to avoid the loudspeaker situation that has been so hotly contested in recent days.

"I take pride in my community, and I take pride in the students," McCawley said. "This is a student-led activity."

Only those who were on the field know exactly what was prayed for, but onlookers said it was simply a prayer between teams followed by a mass "amen."

Players from Calhoun High School also kneeled to pray at the start of their game Friday against Dade County High School in Trenton, Ga.

Sports writer Gene Henley contributed to this story.

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