By Jesse Davis
It was a beautiful day for a baseball game.
The sun rose to blue skies in Goshen Tuesday for the matchup between Goshen College’s Maple Leafs and the Siena Heights University Saints, but a sporting event isn’t what drew local and national media to the diamond. The game served as the inaugural venue for the college’s new practice of playing an instrumental version of the Star-Spangled Banner national anthem before baseball and softball games.
“I was extremely happy, I think it’s well overdue,” 22-year-old senior and pitcher Aaron Coy said. “I’ve been here — I’m a senior now — and I think that it should have been played my freshman year. It’s been a big issue in the past few years especially, and this year it finally got passed and I’m excited to have it played.”
Coy, who is originally from Cromwell and attended West Noble High School, said he was not aware the school did not play the anthem when he first began attending the school.
“At my first game here I was like ‘Wow, they’re not playing the national anthem,’” he said. “I was kind of shocked.”
According to Coy, there are few Mennonites on the team, so most teammates have been in favor of the anthem being played since the beginning of the discussion.
Head Coach Josh Keister said there wasn’t a lot of discussion on the issue when he was a student at the college, although some of them would have liked the anthem to have been played. He said its inclusion now garnered a generally positive response from the team.
Keister shared his comments on the change while his players warmed up behind him with calisthenics and some quick pepper.
“We knew that this was coming as a department, but we didn’t realize it was going to start with spring sports until January when that decision was announced,” Keister said. “So there was some excitement in the sense that we were going to be sort of charter members in doing it, and obviously it’s created some attention for the program and I think that’s a positive thing. We think it’s a good move and hopefully it will represent us well with opponents who can understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. I think it will be well-received.”
A visitor’s view
At away team’s dugout, Siena Heights head coach John Kolasinski expressed his respect for the college.
“I respect whatever decision they would make,” Kolasinski said. “We’re their guests and they’ve been very good hosts to us before and I anticipate that going on along the line. I think one of the things you have to do is respect everybody’s decisions, be it if they play or if they don’t play. That’s part of life.”
Like Keister and his players, Kolasinski was focused on one thing.
“Playing in good weather man, come on,” he said, laughing. “We’re from Michigan, we don’t get good weather to play in.”
That good weather, along with the anthem, brought a larger-than-usual crowd to the game. Approximately 80 spectators arrived before the first pitch was thrown. Among them was 25-year-old Goshen resident Tyler Roth, who said he only heard about the anthem issue on the social networking site Facebook.
“I don’t think it’s going to be as big a deal as they think it’s going to be,” Roth said. “We’ll see what happens, I guess.”
Two Facebook groups popped up in regard to the anthem controversy, one in support and one in opposition to its playing. By the time Tuesday’s game rolled around, the pro-anthem group had 450 fans while the opposition group had 1,296 fans.
Also in attendance and wearing an American flag sweatshirt was Jim Kelly of LaGrange, father of GC catcher Benjamin Kelly.
“Baseball’s got a real tradition of having our national anthem played for it,” Kelly said. “It’s a nice thing to do and it’s a real strong tradition with baseball and I’m glad they’re (going to start playing it).”
The time comes
As the final minutes before the game wound down, attendees and visiting media congregated near the press box. As the opening announcement began, the crowd fell silent.
“As an institution that values diversity and seeks to provide a hospitable place for all to come, learn and experience, we welcome you to today’s game,” the recorded announcement proclaimed after a brief introduction of the college, later ending with “We offer this time as space for people to respond respectfully as they wish, recognizing that these rituals represent different things to different people. Thank you for joining us and we trust today’s game will be enjoyable.”
If possible, the silence only grew deeper — although punctuated by the clicking of cameras — when the first notes of the anthem began to rise from the portable PA system. The instrumental arrangement was written by Peter Breiner in 1994 and was used during medal ceremonies at the 2004 Athens Olympics. At the anthem’s end, a cheer went up from the crowd and players before a hush again settled for a reading of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.
GC Senior Multimedia Specialist Paul Housholder, who triggered the recording from the press box, said it was his first time running the pre-game announcements. He supported the decision to play the anthem.
“I think it’s appropriate given the context of the time we’re in and the community we’re a part of,” Housholder said.
After the first inning, GC President Jim Brenneman met with the media to share a written statement and field questions. According to his statements, college officials took into account the wide variety of student backgrounds and beliefs in making their decision, as well as multiple dialogues across campus that have included students, faculty, athletic staff and alumni.
“At Goshen College, our entire learning process is framed by a commitment to address complex problems, no matter the discipline, and to do so with academic rigor and civility,” Brenneman said. “Playing the national anthem or not before our games is one such complex issue for us.”
He said that although conversation on the topic had been ongoing and comments had been coming in, the announcement of the school’s decision elicited further responses.
“Actually, after the decision was made, we got a lot more response both on and off campus even though on-campus we had more conversations than off,” Brenneman said. “I think the decision was a catalyst for us to really engage the conversation in ways we might not have otherwise.”
The school, he said, will continue to discuss the playing of the anthem throughout the year, and that the decision will be reviewed by the college’s Board of Directors in June 2011.
Overall, Brenneman was pleased with the outcome.
“There’s civil dissent and civil support,” he said, “so I think it actually honored the best of who we are here at Goshen College.”