"I trust in God."
The first four words of the Little League pledge have remained the same since the oath was written in 1954 by the late president of the amateur baseball organization.
For Dunbar resident Bruce Levens, whose children played Little League more than 25 years ago and whose three grandchildren play today, Canadian society has succeeded in separating church from most of its state and cultural institutions. Sport, he says, should be no different.
"I have brought my children up to be very skeptical of religion and to allow them to make their own choices as to whether or not they want to follow any particular faith," Levens told the Courier this week after he read the spring newsletter of the Dunbar Residents Association. He was dismayed to learn the Dunbar Little League, like thousands of similar leagues worldwide, will open its season April 14 with the pledge.
The oath continues: "I love my country and will respect its laws. I will play fair and strive to win, but win or lose, I will always do my best."
Levens supports the pledge's commitment to fair play and good sportsmanship but believes the altars of religion and sport should be kept apart. "I'd like to see the whole reference to God, country and laws taken out completely," said Levens, an atheist. "It's highly inappropriate to expect children to make that pledge."
The pledge, according to Little League International, takes its first phrase from U.S. currency and also channels the spirit of the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance. The author removed overt national references in his rewriting of the American salute, which on occasion is still recited at amateur, collegiate and professional arenas with the inevitable singing of the anthem.
Little League International does not require anyone to take the pledge.
In Canada, regional Little Leagues in Vancouver and elsewhere decide when and if they recite the pledge or sing the Canadian anthem. Most begin the season with both and also cite the pledge at large tournaments through the playoffs.
Levens said the pledge puts undue pressure on children and families. "Even if it isn't a strict requirement to give the pledge, to have the pledge creates a social need to conform and people feel uncomfortable saying no," he said.
Little Mountain Little League president Pat Chaba said in his decade of involvement with the league he has never heard of any resistance toward the pledge, which he considers "generic" and in line with the yellow badges on players' uniforms that declare: "I won't cheat."
"What we're trying to do is instill in kids a little bit about character and respect," said Chaba, who experienced the game's worldwide reach at the Little League World Series in August where he heard the pledge recited in Spanish, Japanese and French and even in Arabic by an American on the Saudi Arabian team.
Roy Bergerman, president of Little League Canada, said he fielded no more than three complaints from parents about the pledge when he was a coach and administrator in Surrey. He said the complaints came from parents who were agnostic and disagreed with any reference to religion or God in their child's sport.
Bergerman once recommended parents change the pledge for their child instead of making them sit out the ceremony or stay silent. "I suggested, 'I trust in my family.'"
"It's a sense of God that came out of the 1950s and '60s in the U.S., but it's broadened its horizons. It could be Allah or whatever God you believe in if you believe in a god."