EDMOND—Anyone attending a Deer Creek High School football game should hang around when the game is over. It doesn’t matter if it’s a home game or a road game.
The Antlers and their supporters will participate in the same ritual, regardless of location. And what they do may impact even more than those who are at the stadium.
Grant Gower, Deer Creek head coach, has always tried to be open about his Christian faith. At the end of each practice, the team will gather for final words from the coaching staff, and then Gower himself will voice prayer as the team joins him.
In a recent Baptist Messenger article, Oklahoma Baptist University head football coach Chris Jensen said, “In the public school setting, to approach things from a Christian perspective is a risk. I didn’t mind taking that risk because I trusted God has me where I needed to be and doing what I was supposed to be doing.” Before coaching the Bison, Jensen coached at Southmoore High School.
Gower was told what Jensen said. He followed suit. “I agree,” Gower said. “It is a risk, but God has placed us in certain situations, and I know this is my calling at this particular time. I’m excited about what God has in store.”
And that’s the approach Gower takes. He not only is open about his faith with his players, but he allows them to be open as well, even at football games. And just as the team participates in prayer after each game, home and away, wins and losses, they invite anyone who wants to join them.
The postgame prayer time started a few seasons ago, when Gower and Roger Gregory, Deer Creek band director, planned out how to do different rituals after the game to implement school spirit.
“When I became the head coach several years ago, one of the things that we would do after each game, whether it was home or away, after the postgame handshakes with our opponents, we would always go towards our stands, where our band would play the fight song,” Gower said.
As the student body would gather and the players would hold up their helmets during the fight song, the cluster of people on the field began to grow. Gower said everybody would stick around for the team’s postgame talks, including cheerleaders and family members, and then this spontaneous congregation would join in a time of prayer.
“The circle of people started to be about 20 yards and grew to even 60 yards on the field,” said Gower. “It’s not required of anyone. We just open it up for our community to come and join us. It wasn’t necessarily planned. It was a great demonstration of how our community is involved with our team in prayer.”
Gower said the prayer time has even affected others. After a game in Lawton, one of his former players attended the game. “I haven’t seen him in about 18-20 years,” he said, and when the former player stayed afterward to catch up with his high school coach, the prayer gathering had an effect on him.
“’Coach, that’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen,’” Gower said, quoting his on-looking past player. “It was great to have that affirmation.”
Public prayer is not the only way Gower applies Christian principles to his coaching. He knows how he communicates on the field and in practice also is important.
“It takes away from who you are,” he said about improper communication and behavior affects his team and others who are under his leadership. “It’s one of the quickest ways to hurt your witness. I try to instill the importance to the players on how to conduct themselves both on and off the field.”
He also makes sure to connect with family members of his players. If someone on the team experiences surgery, Gower is there with the family, showing support while waiting the results.
Gower knows it’s more than just the words he says. His actions and his character also are in check. And if he can support others in demonstrating their faith, he is willing to be that encourager.
Deer Creek’s first game of the season is at Piedmont, Sept. 6. Come watch the Antlers take on the Wildcats.