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Bremerton backstory


WORLD Radio - Bremerton backstory

Behind Coach Kennedy’s resignation is an ongoing effort to resolve his settlement

Joe Kennedy, former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash. Associated Press/Photo by Ted S. Warren, File

EICHER: In Coach Kennedy’s resignation letter Wednesday, he gave three reasons he was leaving: one, the failing health of a family member, two, responsibilities in Florida, where he’s been living, and three, feeling that the school was still trying to retaliate against him.

BROWN: But Rachel Laser, CEO of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, doesn’t buy it. In a statement, she said, and I’ll quote her words directly: “For years, Kennedy and his lawyers have said all he wanted was his job back. We were skeptical. And now, here we are, right where we warned the Supreme Court we would be.”

EICHER: Tensions remain high between Kennedy and the school. In addition to his job, Kennedy was awarded a 1.7 million dollar settlement to be paid over the next three years. So for many it’s not a surprise that Kennedy resigned.

WORLD sports writer Ray Hacke he attended the game last Friday. He’s here to tell us a bit more about it. Ray, tell us what it was like.

RAY HACKE, REPORTER: Well, it definitely wasn't a usual high school football game. In fact, Bremerton High actually had a media tent because they had so many media there. Both local, regional, and national. Usually they're just happy when the local newspaper comes out and covers them, like once or twice a season. But Friday night, they had at least 20 media outlets there. That’s just a testament of how many people were interested in this story.

BROWN: Take us back to the moments just after Friday’s victory. All eyes were on center field. What did coach Kennedy do and how did the fans respond?

HACKE: Well, after the game, there was the usual postgame handshake for both teams. Then, basically, Coach Kennedy just waited until both teams had headed back to the locker room and then you know, he just kind of wheeled around, marched out to the B in the middle of the field, faced the scoreboard in the north endzone, and he knelt down on one knee. And as soon as he did that, you know, cheers arose from the grandstand on the home sideline.

EICHER: When you interviewed Coach Kennedy after the game, he hadn’t yet announced his resignation. Now that he has, some suggest Friday’s game was nothing but a publicity stunt … and you heard what the opposing side in the legal fight had to say. What do you think about the idea that it was a publicity stunt?

HACKE: I don't know that it was, I think, first of all, Bremerton had to take him back, even though it didn't really want to, you know, there's certainly some tension. And basically, you know, with him being there, I don't think he wanted to be a distraction. I do know that after the game, that was one of the first things reporters asked about is like, are you going to be here on Monday? He's like, I'm going to do whatever God wants me to do. But I do think that since he fought for the right to go and pray legally, on the 50 yard line after games, you know, he had to kind of fulfill his end of the bargain and actually do it. But you know, it's definitely kind of sad that he's leaving because I would have liked to have seen him get one last full season under the lights at Bremerton.

BROWN: So then, from your perspective, what do you think was the larger point of the whole exercise?

HACKE: The Supreme Court said what has been obvious to quite a few lawyers, which is that religious expression is free expression. And you know, what coach did after his games was meant to be a private act. He wasn't trying to call attention to himself. It's just he's out there by himself and people notice. So. So he fought for the right to pray in public. And now I think, you know, a lot of coaches are going to be able to go and do that. And a lot of players are going to be able to do that, without fear of punishment.

EICHER: One more thing before you go. I’d like to know a little more about the star running back for Bremerton, Oliver Christian, and how he figures in.

HACKE: It had to be divinely scripted that the guy who delivered a victory for Bremerton was named Christian. I mean, he scored three touchdowns in the second half: 60 yard punt return and a 70 yard carry from scrimmage and according to Coach Kennedy after Christian scored on a 70 yard run in the fourth quarter, Oliver Christian came to him and said, that one was for you, Coach, welcome back.

It's like, okay, you've got a Christian delivering the victory. And basically, that's what that night was. They're celebrating a Christian victory. Coach Kennedy said, it's just a coincidence, I'm sure. But I think most Christians recognize that, you know, God's hand was at work in that.

BROWN: It was indeed. Well, if you’d like to read Ray’s digital story online, we’ve included a link in today’s show notes and our program transcript. Our thanks to Ray for recording the interviews and game sound used in today’s report.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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