The following commentary was submitted by Rod Utter, pastor at Cornerstone Church of Mention.

On Sept. 18, the Tippecanoe Valley School Board is slated to choose a name for its high school football field. This has become a heated topic in the district, one which I feel a need to weigh in on as both a graduate of the school system (I was a freshman in 1975 when the consolidated high school opened), and as a pastor in one of its local churches. In writing, I know full well that many will scoff at what I have to say, but none the less I am compelled.

Most of us in the area know of the storied Valley football program. It began with Coach Charlie Smith, who, at the consolidation of Akron and Mentone high schools, took a bunch of kids who had never played the sport and in just a few years had them playing for the state title. Coach Smith gave us all a dose of machismo that perhaps we had never known. As we celebrated football successes, before long a banner was hoisted above the stadium proclaiming it to be “Death Valley.” I was one of those who at the time thought the name was fitting.  However, I know more today than I knew then.

God designed us as creatures with a propensity for worshipping. His intent is that we would be in a relationship with Him and that we would worship Him.  Unfortunately, there is another story of which we are all aware, that being the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In the Garden, by way of his own choices that were in disobedience to God, Adam (who was the representative of all of us) unwittingly gave Satan rights and access to the world. This is how things work in the spiritual realm even to this day. Through our decisions, we sometimes unwittingly give the enemy rights and access to our lives.

Shortly after the “Death Valley” banner was hoisted above the Valley football field (the school corporation is the representative of all who live in the district), the citizens of the school district started living out the words on the banner; we started to experience the deaths of students. As the years passed we became a school district in which parents too frequently buried their children, one of which was my only son. At first the deaths came by way of accidents, they then increased by way of suicides and as things progressed we even began losing children and parents together.

We all worship something and whatever we worship becomes a god to us. As a school district we have corporately worshipped under a banner proclaiming “Death Valley” and football was our god, thereby Satan gained permission to step in and destroy families and dreams.

Superintendent Brett Boggs has formed a committee to fight against student suicide and I applaud his efforts. I attended a meeting or two, after which I told my wife that I could not participate any further because they were trying to fight a spiritual battle using secular methods. Eventually, as the frequency of student deaths increased, my eyes opened to the problem with the “Death Valley” banner. I even stopped at the high school many mornings on my way to work, to sit in front of that banner and pray against its influence on the community.

Eventually, I wrote Superintendent Boggs a letter explaining to him that if he seriously wanted to stop the student deaths from occurring that the “Death Valley” banner had to come down. I suspect other Christians were seeing the same thing and delivering the same message.  Quietly, the banner came down and the deaths stopped! That is except for one more instance. Satan threw a final punch as coaches Smith and Bibler were in an airplane traveling to college football field also  proclaimed to be “Death Valley!”

The public recently provided the school district with 183 proposals for the naming of the Valley football field. A naming committee has presented four of the 183 to the school board from which to make a selection on Sept. 18. To my disbelief, all four of the possible names include “Death Valley.”

If our duty as parents and adults is to protect our children, even if you don’t believe in the things I and others are saying, why even take the chance? Are the glorious football memories of the aging Valley alumni influenced by Coaches Smith and Bibler worth the gamble? Are you willing to look into the eyes of yet another destroyed parent who is grieving their child and say, “I am so sorry, but football pride is certainly worth the cost!”

It seems that the fix is in and the return of the Death Valley moniker inevitable. I can only pray the words of my Lord Jesus, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do!”