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Dayton Daily News (Ohio)
In the nearly 40 years that Cathi and Rob Eberly of Aurora have sat courtside at Kent State men's basketball games, they've seen their fair share of wins and losses, sportsmanship and arguments and Golden Flashes mascot appearances.
But at Wednesday night's home opener against the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils, the couple got a glimpse of something they've never seen before at a game: the American flag straight from the basketball court, standing alongside people of all walks of life.
At Wednesday's game, each basketball player selected a fan of a different race from the crowd to stand with them during the national anthem in an effort to promote solidarity among the team and spread it to the crowd.
After the buzzer rang to signal the start of the game, the team broke its huddle and scattered to different fans near the floor, where they took their hands and led them to the middle of the court.
"He just said, 'I'd like you to join me for the national anthem,'?" Cathi Eberly said. "Lots of people of different ages were up there. Anything that can help unify the country, even a small thing like this, is good."
The players and fans formed a single line across the court - people who were white, black and those in between. With arms over shoulders and hands over hearts, the wall of diversity stood silent while the Kent State band played the national anthem.
"It was really, really cool," said 11-year-old Nalyssa Grant of Kent, whose brother, senior Jimmy Hall, is a forward on the team. Rob Senderoff, the team's coach, picked her from the crowd to stand alongside him. "It was fun to do that and be up there."
The gesture wasn't one suggested by the school, but rather by the players themselves - who took their idea to the athletic department's coaches.
"The players approached the coaching staff with this idea, and we fully supported them," Senderoff said. "It takes courage for our players to make a statement like this."
Their decision comes at a time when controversy surrounds the national anthem. Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, started the fire when he began kneeling during the national anthem at his games in August to protest against a racial divide in the country.
The KSU basketball team's gesture serves double after a tumultuous election season that's cultivated contentious feelings along party lines.
"We understand all of the issues going on in our world," said sophomore point guard Jalen Avery. "In these times, we felt it was important to show a sign of unity in our community."
Among those pulled to the center of the court was Kent State University President Beverly Warren, who said some of the team have struggled with the results of the election.
"This is an effort to say we're still a Kent State family," Warren said. "I really admire this program, and I was proud to do it."
And in a dominating win against the Delta Devils, beating them 93-63, Kent State topped off a hopeful beginning to the game with a strong finish.
"With all the controversy over the national anthem going on, that was nice," said Rob Eberly about standing with the players. "They're all great kids. They're the reason we've been coming as long as we have."
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