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A football player approaches his high school coach and says he plans to sit during the national anthem before the game.

The issue has rarely come up in Northwest Indiana, but the trickle down effect in professional sports is real and the effect of what kids are seeing taking place at NFL stadiums can't be discounted.

Should the moment come, how will the coach respond?

For Wheeler coach Adam Hudak, it's pretty simple.

"They would miss playing time for sure," Hudak said. "Before the first game, I told my players we will stand together with hands over our hearts. If a player wants to make a difference, volunteer your time, go to a nursing home, go to a food pantry. Stand for the flag."

The subject of respect for the Red, White and Blue is not all black and white for every coach, just like it isn't for the rest of us. While they all emphasize paying proper tribute our country, they also know part of what makes the United States great is the right to freedom of expression.

Say a student has what is deemed a legitimate basis for taking a personal stand, where do coaches draw the line?

"We discuss this every year as a coaching staff," Valparaiso coach Dave Coyle said. "We are in a public school setting; as a result, we are representing many different faces and religions. We make sure not to offend and at the same time honor the wishes of the majority, like any democracy. Our rule is always use common sense."

The debate is a non-factor in some cases. Schools like Whiting and Merrillville remain in the locker room during the anthem. It's not a statement, like the Pittsburgh Steelers (other than Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva) made Sunday at Soldier Field.

"This isn't the NFL, where there are millions of eyes watching," Clark coach Nick Testa said.

Yet it is a hot button topic, hot enough that some high school coaches didn't want to touch the subject.

"When you're dealing with a program with over 80 people involved, you are bound to have differing personal, political and religious beliefs among them," Lowell coach Keith Kilmer said.

At Lowell, Kilmer said it is a tradition that while a player is representing the team, they will stand with helmet/hat removed in a respectful manner while the national anthem is being played. Lowell, Wheeler and Clark are among schools who also pause and stand quietly when "The Star Spangled Banner" is playing at any sporting event on their campus.

"We stress that as a program we are going to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for you to have your own beliefs... (and)... so we can play this great game," Kilmer said. "We are able to support this value through our community service projects, having a car wash, donating money for the Cops Cycling 4 Survivors program and walking in the Lowell Labor Day parade with the Fallen Heroes Project."

Yet if a player wants to go against the patriotic grain, Kilmer knows he must allow it, even if he doesn't agree. Personal feelings cede to a professional judgement in a litigious society.

"I have to let them exercise their right," he said. "As a public school educator and coach in today's society, you have to be careful not to force your beliefs on your players."

Testa agrees, but admits he wouldn't be sure how to respond if a player were to ask about kneeling, sitting or otherwise.

"It's tough," he said. "In high school, it would probably do more harm than good. People would probably react in the wrong way. I believe they should stand, but as a coach, as teachers, we want kids to have an open mind. We want them to show respect for military veterans, to understand what's going on. If there's something they want to talk about, to get off their chest, we want them to feel free."

Portage coach Darren Rodriguez emphasizes a we-over-me attitude that encompasses player displays. There is a time and place for personal expression and the raising of the Stars and Stripes isn't it.

"I would explain that standing is something we do as a team to honor the flag and the people that defend it," he said. "We play in a team sport and we always say that things aren't always about just you as a player/individual. It's about the team and the big picture sometimes. We talk a lot about being a team and what it takes to be a team player... not doing things that draw attention to just the individual."

United they stand, divided they fall. Call it pie in the sky, but maybe a fractioned nation can take a cue from a high school football sideline.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at


Sports reporter

Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.