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National anthem debuts at pacifist college

Associated Press / March 24, 2010

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GOSHEN, Ind. — Fans packed the stands and an American flag fluttered in a spring breeze as strains of the national anthem floated over the baseball field at Goshen College in what is a typical pregame ritual for most Americans.

But both the flagpole and the anthem were new yesterday to the Mennonite-affiliated college, which had never before played “The Star-Spangled Banner’’ in deference to its pacifist traditions.

The northern Indiana college’s decision to play an instrumental version, followed by a peace prayer, roiled many students and alumni when it was announced in January. But yesterday, the reaction was, if not 100 percent positive, at least polite.

Three students sported chests painted to form the American flag. Most in the stands stood as the anthem played, though a few remained seated.

Athletes tried to stay focused on the task at hand: a doubleheader against Siena Heights University.

“There are a lot of distractions today. Let’s focus on baseball,’’ Josh Gleason, Goshen baseball coach, told his team before the game. “Most of this will be over after the first inning.’’

The Mennonite Church, with which Goshen College is affiliated, has no official stance on playing the anthem. But the 116-year-old school had never played it because officials felt its wartime images were incompatible with the school’s commitment to peacemaking.

Jim Brenneman, Goshen College president, said the change was aimed at making students and visitors outside the faith feel more welcome.