COWETA COUNTY, Ga. - Hundreds joined in prayer in Coweta County Thursday night, the football team, fans, and even the coaching staff banded together, after an out-of-state atheist group objected to coaches praying with players.
It's a complaint that many said backfired because it actually ignited more student-led prayer at the school.
"It's a joy to see everyone out here tonight. Very encouraging," said John Small, East Coweta Football coach.
Hundreds gathered at the East Coweta High School football stadium even though there was no game. It was a prayer rally organized by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for the community to show its support for Coach John Small and students here. The Freedom From Religion Foundation complained to school officials that Small had led prayer with his team and posted pictures of it. But school officials and the team said that prayer was always student-led and complied with federal law.
"Yeah, it was always student-led. He was in the mix. We always took it upon ourselves to do it and take care of the business ourselves, " said quarterback Christian Reid.
"Nothing that has happened in the last couple of weeks was a surprise to God," said Small.
Coach Small encouraged the crowd, especially the students, to take advantage of the adversity to strengthen their faith.
"I would encourage you, that when adversity comes your way, you stand up, you look at it, and say ‘God, you got this don't you?" the coach said.
"How important was prayer to the team this year? It was a big part of everything that we were doing. It was our basis really. We were very Christian fundamentally sound and we felt like everything that we were doing was for a high cause," said Reid.
School officials warned coaches that teams could pray, but it had to be student-led. The rally Thursday night was not just to show support for the coach, but to encourage students to keep prayer an important part of their lives.
"I think we all just need to sit back and hold on because something is brewing," said Small.