Anyone who competes in a high school sport or competitive activity in Alaska knows the state tournaments are run by the Alaska School Activities Association. They decide things like which schools will host various state championships.
That’s why it’s a problem when the host of the state wrestling tournament for small schools, Anchorage Christian Schools, holds prayers before matches:
The tournament drew athletes from 1A, 2A and 3A public and private schools around the state, [administrator Tom] Cobaugh said. The school made no money from hosting the event, he said.
About 240 wrestlers and up to 1,500 spectators typically attended the two-day tournament. A prayer — usually led by a pastor or other school staff — was a regular feature of the tournament.
“We would pray at semifinals or finals,” he said. “We do the Pledge of Allegiance, the flag is displayed, we sing the national anthem, say a prayer and then we wrestle.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, acting on a tip from an attendee of the tournament, sent the ASAA a warning that they couldn’t allow this to happen in the future. Since the Christian school officials refused to eliminate the prayer — which is their right — that meant finding a new venue for the tournament.
Billy Strickland, the ASAA’s Executive Director, explains what unfolded on the state wrestling tournament website:
ASAA referred the issue to its own legal counsel for evaluation and opinion. After the ASAA Board reviewed the matter at its recent meeting, it was concluded that an ASAA statewide tournament, even though hosted by ACS or other private school, is nevertheless sponsored by ASAA and is therefore subject to longstanding legal case precedent forbidding the use of prayer at an event sponsored by a public entity.
Anchorage Christian School was then informed by ASAA that a public prayer could not be used in conjunction with any future ASAA statewide tournaments. Anchorage Christian School informed ASAA they would no longer be willing to host the tournament under those circumstances.
ASAA is grateful for ACS’s undertakings to host past ASAA statewide events, and hopes that ACS will be willing to do so in the future. ASAA appreciates the Anchorage School District’s willingness to help us by allowing the tournament to be held at Bartlett High School.
It’s the right move and, really, the only option the ASAA had. Now, try telling that to the commenters at the Alaska Dispatch News who are crying persecution.
The state tournament for smaller schools will take place at the new venue, sans prayer, in mid-December.