Group joins in prayer for team, coaches, students

After the Strasburg High School boys basketball program was suspended, Strasburg residents showed their support for the community during a Jan. 19 prayer vigil next to the ram statue at the school. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – The town has been reeling over the past week after the Strasburg High School boys basketball team had its season suspended indefinitely. On a cold Tuesday night, a group of students and community members gathered outside the school by the ram statue to pray for the team, the students and the community.

“It’s good to see the community come together, especially during times and a situation like this,” said Dusty Dillman, who is a parent of a student and a youth pastor in the area. “All kinds of people, different races, different cultures, different religious backgrounds or denominations — everybody coming together under one Lord and one Christ to pray about something this big is pretty important.”

Libby Smoot, wife of Strasburg Assistant Athletic Director Jeff Smoot, led off the prayer and anyone in the group was allowed to join in and say a prayer after she was done. Several others did join in with a prayer, and after prayers were said the group joined together to sing the school song.

Last Thursday, Shenandoah County Superintendent Jeremy Raley stated in a news release that the junior varsity and varsity basketball games and practices were suspended pending further investigation and until further notice. He noted that “Earlier this week, the Shenandoah County Public Schools received what initially appears to be substantial allegations about physical misconduct among student athletes participating in the basketball program at Strasburg High School.”

Marianne Lamb said that she was talking with her husband Tripp, who is a coach at the school, and said all that they can do is pray. After hearing this, Smoot contacted Lamb and the two decided that something needed to be done for the community and especially the students.

“We knew we were praying together separately and we know each other and we know we’re believing people,” Smoot said. “We said, ‘you know it’s one thing to pray separately and alone, but it’s more powerful when you can come together and pray as a group of believers.’ And we knew that God wanted us to do this.”

They spread the word through word of mouth and social media, and many came out to pray together and unite as a community.

Strasburg’s girls basketball team had a home game Tuesday, and many came to support the team as well as to pray together.

“Very shortly after this story broke kids came to me wanting to do something, wanting to know how to reach out to others and heal together,” said Emily Brown, who is the head of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Strasburg High School, as well as a teacher. “We didn’t organize anything as a school, but knowing that the community put this together gave us an outlet as a way for these kids to pray out to God and to heal,  and it was just wonderful to be a part of.”

Marcie Morgan, whose husband Joel is a teacher and coach at Strasburg, said that they have lived in Strasburg for almost 20 years and she’s amazed at how the community rallies around each other.

She said it was good to see that on display again Tuesday night.

“I think tonight was a show that there are good people in this community,” Morgan said. “There is still lots of love in this community, and that we are still a community. Yes, we’re hurting. There were a lot of folks in the crowd that couldn’t speak, because they were hurting. I think hopefully tonight it showed those folks that even one person still cares about them and their hurt. That’s all that mattered — is that somebody was there for them.”

Lamb said the gathering showed what the community is all about.

“It was great to see the community come out and show support for our coaching staff for our students,” Lamb said. “… It’s been a hard week, but it’s not a week to define us. So it was neat to see everyone come out and support to restore our old definition.”

Smoot said that once word got around that they were having the gathering she received emails from coaches and athletic directors around the state who wanted to show their support even though they couldn’t be there.

She said it was great to see such great support for the coaches.

“We were called to shed light in the darkness, and to show our support for the coaches who we love and know and have known for, in some cases, almost two decades,” Smoot said. “People who have earned our respect and earned our trust. People who have been entrusted with our children’s lives, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I don’t understand what’s taking place. I don’t know the details. I don’t need to know the details. But there’s one thing I know with 100 percent certainty, that those are good men of integrity and character who do not deserve what they’re going through. And we want them back, and that’s all I know.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com