Football and prayer, no coaches allowed

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Friday night the East Coweta High School football team took on Newnan High. But before the game, all eyes were on the coaches and players.

Immediately after running on to the field, the East Coweta players stood shoulder to shoulder, bowed their heads and prayed. It's something they've done many times before, but this time was different. This time the rules had changed. There were no coaches allowed.

In October, a group called Freedom From Religion Foundation warned the school that it's illegal for public school employees to participate with students in prayer. The group says they received a complaint along with a video that showed coach John Small bowing his head in prayer with players.

"It's not allowed because it sends a message to students that the school is endorsing the religion," said Chris Line with the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Line also said that a team prayer with a coach might make some students uncomfortable.

"They may realize the coach likes the prayer and he wants prayer to take place, so I'm going to single myself out if I choose not to participate," said Line.

Brian Pace's son plays on the team.

"If you feel the coach is leading the prayer, I could understand the separation of church and state, but what's to say he can't take a knee and have one of his players stand up and pray?" said Pace.

His wife, Michelle, said she doesn't see anything wrong with the team prayer.

"I have my right to pray and everybody else has a right to pray so we'll stand behind Coach Small and our boys," said Michelle Pace.

Clayton Herndon used to play for East Coweta under a former coach.

"We said the Lord's prayer at the 50-yard line before every game, after the game we prayed together as well," said Herndon. That was 14 years ago, Herndon now coaches young players, and does the same with them. "I coach 8-year-olds on a football team and I pray with them every day."

During Friday night's prayer as the team stood shoulder to shoulder, none of the coaches were nearby, but many parents and students in the stands clasped hands and prayed with the team.