West Branch looking to compromise on prayer before games

Pastor Reich has been a part of the prayers before West Branch games for 18 years and doesn't want to see them stop

West Branch basketball team
West Branch basketball team

BELOIT, Ohio (WKBN) – A compromise is in the works so a prayer can be said before the West Branch boys basketball game on Friday. It’s part of a long tradition that the community doesn’t want to end.

There’s a prayer said before West Branch football and basketball games and it usually comes from a local pastor. The tradition has been going on for at least 30 years but the school district got a complaint about it last month from a non-profit organization based in Wisconsin.

West Branch suspended the prayer and has had two home games since receiving the complaint. It’s hoping to have a solution before Friday night’s home game.

“Always for protection, good, their best efforts and for everyone to go home saying, ‘I did my best,'” said Pastor Mark Reich, of Beloit Evangelical Friends Church, explaining what he prays for.

Over the 30 years that the prayers have been said, they’ve included words of comfort after a teacher died, students passed away from meningitis and even following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter last month, objecting to the prayer after getting two complaints. One of those involved a game against a team from Canton on January 5.

“People internally have said, ‘Is it someone within the community, is it someone from another community?’ Bottom line is we don’t know,” Superintendent Tim Saxton said.

That part bothers Pastor Reich. He’s been a part of the prayers for 18 years and doesn’t want to see them stop.

“It’s disheartening when this type of thing comes in from outside,”  Reich said. “Because it is a well-loved tradition. The faith foundation in this community, it runs deep.”

West Branch is trying to come up with a plan that doesn’t violate policy while satisfying everyone else.

“We are looking for an option that gives us an ability to do that. It’s that compromise that we’re working on,” Saxton said.

He said, hopefully, there is a way to do this legally somehow.

Saxton doesn’t want the prayer situation to overshadow the seasons that the basketball teams are having. The girls have won 20 games, while the boys take a long win streak into Friday night’s game.

“We want to make sure those traditions that have been long-held or cherished by the folks here are adhered to,” he said.

The district would like to restore what’s in place, if at all possible.


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