'A special place for us'

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Hours before they would bulldoze their latest opponent, Lakeside football players sat in silence, eyes focused on a flat-screen television the size of a basketball backboard.

Inside Warren Baptist Church, they absorbed a testimonial from Heisman Trophy-winning Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford. As the images faded to black, student pastor Grant Janik practically leaped in front of them, gripping a palm-sized Bible.

"What's up, guys?" Janik said, the first words of what would be a 10-minute devotional structured around the David vs. Goliath story.

The Panthers have gathered here before games this season to channel their focus. A ritual of eating together and hearing a devotional has become as much a part of their team as a stingy defense and balanced offense.

These things have collided to put the Panthers on the brink of the school's best season in history. A win over Josey tonight would place Lakeside, which has played football since 1988 without winning a region title, on top of the final Region 3-AAAA standings and give it the opportunity to play host to as many as two home playoff games.

Third-year coach Jody Grooms said his initial plan was to take his teams to different churches in the area, but several players' families belong to Warren and it turned out to be an ideal place to gather, eat and prepare for their game. While the practice of worshiping prior to an athletic event may seem like the norm for area private schools -- Aquinas, for example, attends Mass as a team before every game -- Grooms said his players have embraced the ritual.

"Any time you can get a group of kids together in that kind of environment ... there's a certain kind of bonding agent created," Grooms said. "That's difficult to get anywhere else."

The Panthers ate pregame meals at Sunrise Grill last year as a disjointed bunch. Senior Chris Tynan said: "We goofed around. We didn't have our mind right."

There is nothing unorganized about this year, including the seating arrangements. The Panthers eat in tables that form a giant U. The only time they didn't do this was Oct. 2, before they lost their only game -- by one point to Hephzibah in overtime. They vowed to never change the seating arrangement again.

"Everybody's there, everybody's focused, everybody's listening and that has done a lot for our camaraderie," Grooms said. "I've been around teams before at different schools that just didn't have the 'it' that this team has."

Janik, the student pastor, alternates speaking to the team with another Warren pastor, Lane Lowry. They often begin their messages with video of a Christian testimonial from a popular athlete or musician.

"That gives them a different level of credibility than what I do," said Janik. "We do this to be an open door. ... If you like what you hear, check it out. That would be drive No. 2. (Drive) No. 1 is to spread a message of hope and true life in Christ."

By this point of their day, the typical player has endured a half dozen classes and plenty of urges to let their mind drift toward what might play out on the field. Tynan, though, said players don't have difficulty paying attention.

"It blows the school aspect away," Tynan said. "It's motivational, pretty much. The guy gets up there and relates things to the Bible, but there's always a story behind it."

Grooms said the ritual is also an escape. After a season-opening 17-0 pounding of Evans, school spirit soared, he said. His team needed a place away from the clamor.

"This year, our Fridays have been so wound up -- I guess that's what happens with success," Grooms said. "It subdues them, puts them in touch with who they are, who we are. A lot of people have spilled their heart -- coaches and players. It's been a special place for us this year."

Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or matt.middleton@augustachronicle.com.

Comments (48) Add comment
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Martinez
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Martinez 11/06/09 - 07:31 am
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Thank you Warren Baptist for

Thank you Warren Baptist for opening your home and hearts to our team this year. We hope this tradition carries on for years to come. Pre-Game Meals at Warren have become a time each of our players look forward to and enjoy.

sstea
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sstea 11/06/09 - 07:38 am
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Go Lakeside...it's so nice to

Go Lakeside...it's so nice to see them have a winning season!

writer
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writer 11/06/09 - 08:39 am
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So, I have to open this can

So, I have to open this can of worms. Is no one bothered by this story but me? Are these sessions optional? Say a player is Jewish or (gasp) a non believer, is he still expected to attend? And if he doesn't, is he perceived as less than a team player and treated differently? This sort of religious intimidation of students (and faculty/staff) frequently exists in Columbia County schools and anyone who questions it is of questionable character. I guess that includes me.

dglvr
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dglvr 11/06/09 - 10:04 am
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I am not bothered, but

I am not bothered, but encouraged that these fine young men seem to benefit from the generous support that they are receiving from Warren. Why does there always have to be someone that will question the kindness of a church? You ought to go visit one, and you would not have the views that you do. I am sure if a Jewish Synagogue opened the doors for this type of thing, that the players would go. In life, you listen to many views and take what you want and form your own opinion. The young men are not being beat over the head with religion. Thank you Warren for your generous support of the players and thank you Coach Grooms and Columbia County for allowing it.!

avesposito
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avesposito 11/06/09 - 10:30 am
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Alright self-professed

Alright self-professed Constitution lovers . . . this "plan" by the coach to take the players to church for a religious message before each game is easy-peasy unconstitutional. Now, the rhetorical question is how many Columbia County residents will stand up against this clear violation of their allegedly sacred document? The smart money is on zero.

writer
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writer 11/06/09 - 10:41 am
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Don't make the assumption

Don't make the assumption that if a person is bothered by this story that he or she isn't Christian or a church goer. I qualify on both counts and it still is disturbing. I am not objecting to the place alone, but the place and the message - look at the story again. They are using the Bible, they are using Christian testimonials, the session is sometimes led by the Warren youth pastor. My questions are still the same: Say a player is Jewish or (gasp) a non believer, is he still expected to attend? And if he doesn't, is he perceived as less than a team player and treated differently(by coaches or teammates)?

corgimom
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corgimom 11/06/09 - 10:41 am
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I would not want my child

I would not want my child attending the Baptist Church or hearing Baptist beliefs, because I'm not Baptist. Do they also have Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist athletes giving testimonials? Would all of you be ok if it was at a Kingdom Hall or at the Mormon church? How can CC schools allow this to happen? Yes, I am very bothered by it.

ColCtyLife
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ColCtyLife 11/06/09 - 11:06 am
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Did you know that Evans High

Did you know that Evans High School football players have been going to West Acres Baptist church for their pregame meal for several years now. For all you wonderful naysayers posting comments, you should come see for yourself. My football player is not Baptist and that's not what matters. There's a message offered to these players each week to foster the team and be together as a family. Warren Road church, just like West Acres Baptist, is providing these football teams with the opportunity to share a meal together and bond as a team. The positives to this opportunity are awesome.

ashleyb
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ashleyb 11/06/09 - 11:16 am
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Wow, some people will try to

Wow, some people will try to ruin any possible positive story, even when it involves our young people.

This is called being a team. It is about togetherness and focus. It is about learning how to play the game, and live your life with character. They are not shoving Baptist preachings down these kid's throats. They are not calling kids to the alter. So many people today seem to be miserable and unfortunately they love to drag others down with them.

People have gotten so over the top with their nit-picking, that no one can do anything positive without being rediculed. Cudos to Coach Grooms and these young men.

Ashley Brown

dr1010
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dr1010 11/06/09 - 11:16 am
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Maybe all the players are

Maybe all the players are Christians, is it still a problem? I am sure they asked everyone to be sure it was ok with our politically correct society.

avesposito
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avesposito 11/06/09 - 11:27 am
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Still waiting for someone to

Still waiting for someone to tell me that such behavior by a public school sports team is constitutional . . . or does that not matter when it's inconvenient?

L-Man
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L-Man 11/06/09 - 11:51 am
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Why is the Christian church

Why is the Christian church so intimidating to some of you? If it had been a Muslim or Hindu temple you wouldn't have said a word. You will face the fact one day that there is God and there is a Messiah, Jesus.

goldenWCgladiator
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goldenWCgladiator 11/06/09 - 12:02 pm
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L-Man, stop making

L-Man, stop making assumptions based on the discussion that people are out to "get Christians". That retaliatory attitude is part of the reason that we as Christians are perceived so negatively these days. I know Jesus wouldn't have had that attitude. So please, stop grasping at straws to fit your own frustrations.

clyde1
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clyde1 11/06/09 - 12:27 pm
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Why do so many of you have to

Why do so many of you have to be so critical? Take it for what it is; a way of bringing the football players together in a positive atmosphere. Don't feel threatened by the situation. People don't have to look for the negative in everything.

avesposito
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avesposito 11/06/09 - 01:02 pm
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So Augustans, is this

So Augustans, is this behavior constitutional or not and do you care? Still waiting for someone to actually address the issue . . .

TheCountess
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TheCountess 11/06/09 - 01:25 pm
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The issue is not of being

The issue is not of being crititcal of the situation. The problem is it is unconstitutional to bring religion into a governement funded school or school program. I don't give a hoot what your religious preference is. There is no need to use religion to build togetherness for a team. I played sports for 10 years and our teams never had to induce religious rhetoric to "come together". This is an outright blatant disregard for the ability of person to think for themself. Not only that, but it is UNCONSTITUTIONAL!!!!!

clyde1
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clyde1 11/06/09 - 01:25 pm
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Why does it matter if it's

Why does it matter if it's constitutional or not? Does everything in society have to labeled as one or the other? Why are people so threatened by Christianity or other things that have a positive effect on people? People seem to be so quick to criticize, and that is unnecessary.

TheCountess
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TheCountess 11/06/09 - 01:27 pm
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AND L-man, I don't care what

AND L-man, I don't care what religious group it involved, I would still raise a stink about it. I don't discriminate.

TheCountess
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TheCountess 11/06/09 - 01:33 pm
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Wow, nice to know our

Wow, nice to know our constitution doesn't matter anymore. Thanks for the insight clyde!! Way to use your brain to think independently!!

goldenWCgladiator
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goldenWCgladiator 11/06/09 - 01:35 pm
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clyde, the first sentence of

clyde, the first sentence of your paragraph immediately made me ignore the rest.

clyde1
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clyde1 11/06/09 - 01:39 pm
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The constitution does matter,

The constitution does matter, of course. I just pick my battles. Not everything has to be measured in terms of "does" or "does not." I doubt if Coach Grooms forces anybody to go if they have a reason for why they shouldn't attend. He's a coach, not a dictator. And as for using my brain, I am able to use it to either see the good or bad in a situation and am, therefore, less eager to criticize. Ripping others apart isn't something that makes me feel good.

TheCountess
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TheCountess 11/06/09 - 01:49 pm
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Not ripping them apart, just

Not ripping them apart, just wanting to make certain that my child, who isn't Christian, isn't ostricized from her teammates because she isn't Christian. It is highly uncomfortable for those of us who don't prescribe to this train of thought to have this doctrine shoved down our throats at every opportunity. Any student who isn't a "believer" will feel uncomfortable in this situation and may not have the confidence to speak up for their rights. And they are being made to go. It's a "team" activity.

WMartin
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WMartin 11/06/09 - 03:56 pm
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I actually happen to be a

I actually happen to be a legal expert on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers. This activity is absolutely NOT unconstitutional. There are tons of legal opinions regarding the subject as well as several lower and higher court rulings.

Just My Opinion
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Just My Opinion 11/06/09 - 04:03 pm
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I am quite sure that this is

I am quite sure that this is NOT a mandatory thing. I'm certain that the coaches have let it be known that any student who feels pressured into going can stay away. But, for you people who don't like the idea of the team meeting at a church, would you be happier if they met at Hooters?? Well, why not? What is wrong with the team meeting at a place where love, understanding, and team is fostered? Nothing. The coach himself said that the team was orginally on a rotation with other places, and this was the place they settled because they felt most comfortable. If the parents of these kids don't mind, then leave them alone! If YOUR kid is involved, then you can mess them up anyway you want! Good grief! BTW, way to go Warren Baptist...and any church who takes these teams in! See you Sunday!

faithson
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faithson 11/06/09 - 04:41 pm
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I think most of us would be

I think most of us would be pleasantly surprised at how well these meetings are kept within bounds when it comes to evangelization. A few good words of encourgement from good men, a good meal.... I am sure if there was any problem with any of the players those men in charge would 'handle' it appropriately.. I have faith in the goodness of these men who give of their time to foster character in our young.. so should the rest of us. A sense of gratitude should be more in order than a sense of paranoia.

avesposito
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avesposito 11/06/09 - 04:57 pm
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Question for the "legal

Question for the "legal expert" RealStandupGuy: How would the church-state entanglement described in this article pass the Supreme Court's Lemon Test? If you're really a "legal expert on the Constitution" this should be an easy question for you to answer. I'm an attorney and I'm waiting for your answer . . .

EagleOne
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EagleOne 11/06/09 - 05:03 pm
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One other thing to consider.

One other thing to consider. With most sports programs, the funding comes from booster clubs, not tax dollars. So, if the program is after school, and tax dollars are not being used, tax dollars are not paying for the meal what's the issue? Also last year this time we were beating up this coach for cheating. Now he goes the other way, the team is doing well, and here we go again. He can't win.

TheCountess
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TheCountess 11/06/09 - 05:10 pm
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" In Lee v. Weisman (1992),

" In Lee v. Weisman (1992), the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the offering of prayers by religious officials before voluntarily attended ceremonies such as graduation." Since this is a "voluntarily" attended function, I think the above quote would apply. Information can be found on this when looking up the Lemon Test

TheCountess
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TheCountess 11/06/09 - 05:27 pm
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Another thing to google:

Another thing to google: Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

momofour
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momofour 11/06/09 - 06:08 pm
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I don't know about all of

I don't know about all of this, but I do know that my son, a freshman at LHS who has been given the treasured opportunity to practice and dress out with the Varsity team since the JV season ended, and his family appreciates all that Warren Baptist does for this team and other organizations throughout the community. It is a time of food, fun and fellowship (not all fellowship has to be Christian). It is a time for them to focus on the upcoming game and become a better team by sharing time with each other and their coaches. My family does not attend a Baptist church, we are Episcopalian, and I have NO problem with my son having this meal and time at any church or synagogue for that matter. I do believe that this is an optional event, and the boys on this team are some of the finest in our county, so no, I do not believe that if someone does not attend that they are treated differently or looked at as not being a team player. I am grateful to the church, the community, the faculty and coaches for making this season one that has been memorable for my son and our family.

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