Colleagues are sad to see Borden’s career end like this

When Marcus Borden led his team in prayer prior to its football games, he wasn’t doing anything groundbreaking.

In fact, it’s estimated that well over 50 percent of high school coaches across the nation lead their teams in some sort of prayer prior to games.

So why has the practice become such a hot-button issue in East Brunswick? Because the district’s superintendent, Jo Ann Magistro, did her job, responding to complaints from students and parents in her district by confronting the highly popular coach, and informing him that his actions were in violation of federal law separating church and state.

Whether or not Magistro should have simply ignored the complaints remains an issue for debate, but the general reaction from some of Borden’s coaching colleagues is consistent. They recognize that it was just a matter of time before the practice became an issue, and are sad to see their colleague end what has been a stellar coaching career over something non-football related.

“I’ve been coaching against Marcus since 1983, and in 22 years I believe we’ve developed a mutual respect for each other,” Old Bridge head coach Bob DeMarco, now in his 29th season, said. “And I think it’s very sad that he’s not there now.

“Any of us could have been put in that situation, and it’s difficult to take sides,” he added. “You have to make a decision based on what you have to do personally.”

DeMarco said that while his team does pray before each game, he understands that it has become a delicate subject.

“We do sit down before games and have a silence-type prayer,” he said. “We pray to play to the best of our abilities and for our players to avoid injuries.

“I guess if it offends anyone then we won’t do it anymore,” he added. “It’s certainly a touchy area. Some people take offense to it, I guess.”

DeMarco added that his players will be welcome to continue praying on their own, and said that he is not surprised that Borden’s resignation over the issue has generated such attention.

“Marcus is such a high-profile person in the state,” he said. “He leads or has led just about every organization that exists for football coaches, so I’m not at all surprised it’s getting as much attention as it is.”

Sayreville head coach George Najjar, who has been coaching against Borden for the past 11 years, said that he was not overly surprised with Borden’s decision, and admires the fact that he is standing by his principles.

“Marcus is a true straight-shooter who works very hard and is very conscientious,” he said. “To say or believe that he has any other intentions is not fair.”

Najjar also echoed DeMarco’s sentiments that the reaction to the issue has created an unfortunate situation at East Brunswick.

“I’m a little disappointed that the kids, the program and the school’s reputation is being distorted by all of this,” he said.

As far as his team is concerned, Najjar said that the teams praying before a game has never been an issue.

“We gather in the locker room, but we’ve never had an issue with it,” he said.

Spotswood head coach Ron Raymond is on the record saying that he will continue to encourage his players to pray before games, if they so desire, though he will not initiate it.

South River head coach Rich Marchesi made the same promise.

“Our prayer is initiated by the players before we eat and before we take to the battlefield,” he said.

Marchesi added that he is certainly aware of the fact that the practice is a delicate issue.

“You’ve got to be careful with what you do these days,” he said.

— Doug McKenzie