Since the spring of 2007, Bethany Christian Schools has been grappling with the idea of playing the national anthem at sporting events — something the school has never done in the past because of its Mennonite traditions.
Now, as the disadvantages of not being able to host sporting events at the sectional level sink in, the school is reconsidering.
During the course of regular meetings in 2006-07, several athletic directors from Bethany’s sectional questioned whether Bethany should be allowed to continue hosting sectional games since the school did not play the national anthem before games.
In order to address the issue, the athletic directors invited Allan Dueck, the principle of Bethany Christian Schools, to present the school’s rationale for not playing the anthem before games. During his 20-minute presentation, he tried to explain how the national anthem conflicted with the Mennonite ideals in which Bethany is rooted
Despite his effort, several schools out of the ten still felt that Bethany should not hold sectional sporting events. The concerned directors contacted the state athletic association, and in the early summer of 2007, the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) informed the school that it could not host sectional games unless it agreed to play the national anthem.
According to Phil Gardner, assistant commissioner for the IHSAA, schools that host sectional games are required to arrange the playing or singing of the national anthem in honor of the ceremonial tradition that has been occurring for years.
Dueck has noticed a number of inconsistencies with playing the national anthem at high school sporting events. He pointed out that schools that play the national anthem typically do so for all basketball and baseball games, but only occasionally for other athletic events.
“What is so different about tennis, cross country and other sports that makes it acceptable not to play the national anthem?” he asked.
Last October, Bethany was asked to host the girls’ soccer sectional because of a lack of schools available. The absence of the national anthem at the game wasn’t an issue for the IHSAA at that time, said Dueck.
This school year, the importance of being able to host sectional games is being questioned again.
“One way of looking at it is seeing the game as a state event with the school as just the venue,” said Dueck.
He also noted that a number of other Mennonite high schools across the nation choose to play the anthem while hosting state-level games.
“There is a disadvantage of not being able to host home games at that level,” he said.
While the situation at Bethany is different from the recent events at Goshen College regarding the national anthem (Bethany wouldn’t need to play the anthem for regular season games), there are also some similarities between the two.
Like Goshen College, said Dueck, Bethany has “other-than-Mennonite students.” Bethany is interested in attracting students from other backgrounds in order for the school to flourish, he said.
Bill Born and Joe Leichty, two faculty members at Goshen College who were on the college’s national anthem task force, spoke with the Bethany board and faculty about the college’s recent process of addressing the national anthem issue.
“It was very helpful to have them share their experience because it helped to clarify what the issues are for our school,” said Dueck.
Since the official decision at Goshen College, there have been a variety of responses from students and alumni, particularly through the college’s Facebook page. People have left comments ranging from disappointment that the college did not take this opportunity to affirm its stance on peace, to applause for the change.
Currently, there are over 750 people who are members of a Facebook group called “Against Goshen College Playing the National Anthem.” There currently around 2,230 fans of the Goshen College page on Facebook.
The issue at Bethany does not hold much urgency at the moment, said Dueck, and a decision will not likely be made before the next school year.
Dueck recognized the fact that no matter what the school decides to do, some people will be always be unhappy with the result. Despite this, he also said that this is a good process for a community to go through
No matter what the school decides, Dueck hopes there will be further conversations to allow students and teachers to better discuss some of the core issues of the Mennonite faith.