What happens when twenty-six high school football players all accept Christ?
In Alabama, they ask to be baptized on the fifty-yard line of their favorite football field!
And despite the protests of an atheist group, that’s exactly what happened.
The Reeltown High School football team was having a banner season already. They had won nine out of ten games and were ready to advance to the Class 2A Alabama State Championship Game.
The players considered each other brothers, and they often spent time together outside of school and football practice.
In fact, twenty-six of them attended a Christian assembly together!
And it was at that assembly that all twenty-six football players accepted Jesus and gave their lives over to His will.
The players knew that their next step of faith was baptism, but they wanted to make it a special moment—and they wanted to share it, just as they had shared the experience of conversion.
What was the natural answer? Being baptized on their high school’s football field, of course!
Joe Windle, a county educational superintendent, recognized the importance of the players’ request.
“This was a special football year for Reeltown,” Windle said. “You know how communities come together with a football team that goes through the playoffs…it energizes the entire community.”
That feeling of community is what drove the players to make a commitment of faith together, Windle noted. “These kids have been playing together since they were 6 or 7 years old.”
The players wanted to honor that bond and carry it into their new lives as Christians. So, they approached their football coach, Matt Johnson, saying, “We’ve spent so much time together on this field, can we be baptized at the 50-yard line?”
“Let me think about that,” Johnson initially told them, but he quickly agreed.
The football players asked local pastors to perform the baptisms, and they invited their families and their coaches to attend the ceremony.
On the day of the baptisms, they set up a metal tub at the field’s 50-yard line and celebrated their new faith together!
Most of the community enjoyed the players’ expression of faith, but one atheist organization wasn’t happy with the public display of Christianity.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a strong letter to Superintendent Windle, arguing that “reasonable” students would have thought that the baptism ceremony “was endorsed by the school.”
FFRF, which labels itself an organization of “atheists, agnostics, and skeptics of any pedigree,” is well-known for its bitter responses to public displays of Christianity.
The organization accused Windle and the Reeltown football coaches of “[ostracizing] those students and families who identify as nonreligious.” Holding the baptism ceremony on school property was both improper and illegal, FFRF argued.
“The [school district] should take the appropriate steps to ensure there will be no further religious rituals, including baptisms, during school-sponsored activities,” the letter read.
FFRF informed Windle that the First Amendment prohibited religious displays on school property, and the organization warned that there could be legal repercussions for the football players’ baptism ceremony.
Of course, this was simply another blatant attempt by FFRF to exclude Christianity from schools and other public spaces, and Windle wasn’t afraid to confront the organization with the truth.
“The First Amendment doesn’t convert all public schools into a religion-free zone,” Windle said in response to the letter he received. “It guarantees a separation of religion and we don’t promote religion in this system.”
“But,” he added, “we are not restricting our students from exercising their right to free speech as a student.”
Since the players held their baptism ceremony outside of school hours, Superintendent Windle said, they were not in violation of the First Amendment.
He continued, “If these kids say ‘I want this opportunity to be baptized on the 50-yard line,’ I don’t care if they are Catholic, Muslim, or Buddhist…in a rural system like ours, we make our facilities available to any organization that wants to use them.”
Windle’s response to the FFRF letter confirmed that the students had followed the law while following their religious convictions as well.
Kudos to this superintendent for not giving in to this atheist organization!
Praise God for an incredible end to the Reeltown High School’s football season, and pray that He will keep working in the lives of these twenty-six young men!