Headmaster Denies Anthem Request


Courtesy of Bob Lowe

Groton Football at a home game against St. Paul’s School.

On October 5, Groton’s Varsity Football and their opponent Roxbury Latin took a moment before opening kickoff in Roxbury to honor their country with the playing of the National Anthem. It made an impression on the Groton sideline.

Following the Roxbury Latin game, several Groton team members became excited about the idea of having the National Anthem included in the pre-kickoff festivities of a highly anticipated night game against the Rivers Redwings on October 25.

Several team members requested that the anthem be played before kick-off. However, Headmaster Temba Maqubela subsequently denied their request. Team captains Caleb Coleman ’20 and Matt Kandel ’20 in turn requested time with the Headmaster to discuss it. Matt said that the captains “wanted to meet with Mr. Maqubela to explain our reasons behind wanting the American national anthem played at our game. We were ready to explain that the team was all in favor of playing the anthem and we felt that it celebrated not only Americans but also those here in America to study.”

Instead of meeting with the captains directly, on Tuesday, October 15, Mr. Maqubela addressed the full team at practice. After briefly informing the team of the status of their assistant coach, John Lyons, who suffered injuries in an accident, Mr. Maqubela turned to the issue of the National Anthem. According to Alec Konisberg ’23, Mr. Maqubela spoke about his decision for “about five minutes.”

In an interview with the Circle Voice following the discussion with the team, Mr. Maqubela first explained his deep sense of patriotism that includes, as he described to the Circle Voice, his leadership in such initiatives as the student-led flag raising club. “I’m a patriot.” Mr. Maqubela said. “Not a nationalist.”

Mr. Maqubela continued. “Unlike a public school, Groton would need to play many national anthems because we have so many different people from so many different nations. I would just say, it is not necessary. Why don’t we just play a verse of the school hymn? And have little Groton Flags and celebrate Groton? That’s my theory.”

Mr. Maqubela explained that Roxbury Latin is an all-boys, neighborhood school that shouldn’t be equated to Groton. Returning to the theme of patriotism, he said, “People say I should be quiet about this being an American school that welcomes all nationalities and makes them have a sense of belonging. I emphasize this because the US is a nation of immigrants from all over the globe. And to illustrate that, at Convocation the American Flag leads, along with the Groton flag, to underscore the importance of America in this school.”

Several members of the team objected to Mr. Maqubela’s point about Convocation. Matt said that the team was “told that celebrating America in Convocation was enough and we did not need to do any more. It was my belief that Convocation honored all the countries represented with the flag ceremony, not only America.”

Notably, Convocation was framed on the school’s website as “A Visible Display Of Globalism Kicks Off School Year.” Mr. Maqubela argues that globalism and patriotism are completely compatible “because everybody should be a patriot in their own country.”

As an international student playing on the football team, Joon Whang ’23 offers a unique counter-perspective. “As a foreign student, I don’t mind the playing of the Anthem,” Joon said. “America represents this melting pot of cultures… from my perspective, [the Anthem] includes a lot of foreign students as well.”

Matt echoed that sentiment. “I believe that playing the national anthem at the game would not divide our student body into Americans and non-Americans, leaving people left out, but rather it would unite us under one flag, in the country that we are all studying together. It would celebrate our unity, not our division.”

Beyond his belief that it would be wrong to exclusively play the Star-Spangled Banner, Mr. Maqubela also spoke to the team about his fear that a student might kneel. The Groton Headmaster was referring to the August 2016 decision by then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to drop to a knee during the Anthem, which in turn led to several years of free-speech defenses and vigorous denunciations across the political spectrum. Several players speculated Mr. Maqubela wanted to avoid a similar issue on Parents Weekend. Mr. Maqubela said that Parents Weekend was a non-factor in the decision. “This is my position,” he said.

And so, as the autumnal leaves turn, Francis Scott Key’s lyrics have sparked a difference of opinion on the Circle. Some like Headmaster Mr. Maqubela argue that it is the wrong approach for the diverse and globalist Groton student body. Others are disappointed that the National Anthem isn’t part of the pre-game when “Friday Night Lights” comes to Groton.