Kneeling_team

A Slidell Youth Football Association team of 7- and 8-year-olds take a knee during the National Anthem at a championship game Sunday.

Players who kneel during the national anthem aren't just a controversy for the NFL.

On Sunday, the protest filtered down to a Slidell youth football program when a team of 7- and 8-year-olds took a knee prior to playing a championship game.

A video that circulated on Facebook showed the young players, members of a team called the Spartans, went to their knees several notes into "The Star-Spanged Banner" after one of their assistant coaches did so.

The Slidell Youth Football Association, a private organization that receives some city funding, posted a statement about the incident on its Facebook page, saying the organization was aware that a photo showing the kneeling players had been shared across social media.

"Slidell Youth Football Association was not aware of this isolated situation prior to the start of the national anthem," the statement said. "SYFA does not have a rule or bylaw in place that tells someone to kneel or stand during the national anthem."

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The group will address the issue at its next general meeting, the statement said.

"We want it known that we are 100 percent kids first and will not allow coaches to bring their political view into a child's game," the statement said.

George Roberson, president of the association, declined to comment beyond the posted statement and would not answer questions about whether the coach instructed the team members to kneel.

Erica Wise, the assistant coach, did not immediately return a request for comment. But she posted about the game on her Facebook page, saying, "P.S. I did not ask the team to take a knee with me but it was cool. We saluted & showed respect to the vets after."

The team's action provoked no online comments during the game, but it generated plenty of discussion afterward on social media.

Kendra Maness, whose father was one of the founders of the youth sports organization, said that she was initially very upset to see the players kneeling. But after reading the group's statement, she said, she calmed down.

"The board is doing the right thing," she said. "They are following the rules of the organization instead of taking rash action."

The group needs to follow its procedures and guidelines, Maness said, and although it does not have a policy in place now, "they're going to have one."

Slidell City Councilman Glynn Pichon said he is waiting to see what comes out of the group's meeting and didn't have any additional comment.

Councilman Bill Borchert said the incident concerns him, though he said it would be far more distressing if indeed a coach told young players to take a knee.

"If a coach or individual would use a youth sports team for his or her political agenda, that's just wrong," Borchert said. "As a member of the group that deals with the city budget and uses some of that money to offset the league's costs, I think we need to take a serious look and make sure that the values of the SYFA are in line with the values of the people we represent citywide."

The SYFA is one of four private youth sports organizations in Slidell that receive $10,000 each annually from the city. The others are the Slidell Youth Basketball Association, the Slidell Bantam Baseball Association and the Slidell Youth Soccer Club.

Andrew Canulette contributed to this report.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.