Year in Review – Prayer divided city

Editor's note: This is one of a series on top stories in the PNT coverage area in 2012.

In mid-September, Portales' city leagues Sports Director Mike Doerr told the Portales News Tribune that coach-led prayer would no longer be allowed at games under the city's auspices. He added that, "There's nothing up for discussion."

Doerr may have been right in that the decision ultimately wasn't altered, but there was certainly plenty of discussion in the weeks afterward.

"If they don't want to be a part of it, they don't have to be a part of it," said Portales resident Pam Preston in response to reports that it was the concerns of one family, that their child would feel ostracized, that led to the decision.

"No one is saying they can't go in their own group and have their own prayer," Preston added. "They want to stop something because it makes them uncomfortable."

"My personal opinion is that I wish that it didn't get this far and that I don't agree that we needed to be proactive in limiting prayer," said City Councilor Leo Lovett in the days after the decision was made.

Doerr said he sought advice when the subject was brought up concerning one of the city's junior football leagues.

"We have multiple ethnicities, nationalities and religious backgrounds involved in our city leagues," Doerr said. "As much freedom as everyone has to express religious views, we must have the courtesy to respect the views of others."

At the first Portales city council meeting after the decision was announced, 150 community members crammed city hall to talk and hear the discussion.

"It's time to say no more," said Micah Thompson, expressing her belief that her religious rights were being taken away."How many steps are we away from completely giving in?"

Sharon King, Portales' mayor, told those present at the September 18th meeting that the city could not overturn the decision.

"I'm a Jew and proud of it," Linda Utarro told the audience. "Prayer is a conversation between me and my God. As a Jew, I cannot agree with a coach telling my child how to pray."

The dialogue didn't end with that city council meeting however.

Less than two months later, some Portales residents founded a faith-based sports association. Rick Wilcher, who helped create the Roosevelt County Sports Association, said that the formation of the league had been in the planning for about a year.

"With everything that was going on with prayer debate, we fully understand that the city had to do what they had to do," Wilcher said.

"They (city councilors) were just doing their job and this decision had nothing to do with that," he added. "But, at the same time, it awakened a bunch of the Christians in the city that we should have started something like this a long time ago to minister to kids and allow them to walk freely in their faith."

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