Was Athlete's Religious Talk Out Of Bounds?

School Program Appalls Some, But Sponsors Defend 'Sharing'

March 22, 1992|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

The buzz among students after an anti-drug assembly featuring a former pro-football player was about neither sports nor drugs, said JasonDouros, a senior at South Carroll High School.

It was surprise that the speaker they just heard was allowed to talk so much about how he found Jesus, and how that helped him say no to alcohol.

"Most of us were kind of in shock, like, 'Why is he talking aboutthis?' I was deeply offended," said Douros.

He said he believes in God but does not practice any organized religion.

Former SeattleSeahawk and Detroit Lion Herman Weaver is one of several pro football players who travel to speak about the dangers of drugs and alcohol for Sports World Ministries of New Tazewell, Tenn.

Weaver's visit to Carroll was organized and paid for by several local businessmen who put up the $2,000 and by five Christian churches and Campus Life, aChristian youth organization, said Floyd Westbrook, youth pastor at First Assembly of God in Westminster.

Other Carroll churches involved were Westminster Church of God, Liberty Church of Maryland in Westminster, Wesley Freedom United Methodist in Eldersburg and Foursquare Gospel Church in Westminster.

Joseph D. Mish Jr., a member of the Board of Education, also helped organize the assemblies, held the first week in March at Liberty, South Carroll and Francis Scott Key high schools and at East, West and North Carroll middle schools.

"I felt he was criticizing the way me and my friends live," Douros said of Weaver's presentation. "He was saying we should try to be what Godwants us to be."

James Torretti, a math teacher at South Carroll,also felt Weaver's talk was inappropriate for a public school, especially for an assembly students were required to attend.

"While he did talk about drugs and alcohol, I felt the main purpose and the main focus of his talk were religious, even though he only mentioned Jesus once," Torretti said.

After the assembly, he said, he over heard students who "felt someone had pulled a fast one on them," because the assembly was billed as a drug and alcohol talk.

Principals were left feeling the same way. Several said Weaver went much farther than they expected him to.

But they didn't rule out continuing to allow Sports World speakers in. They said they'll require more specificdescriptions of what the speaker will say.

Richard DeLong, North Carroll Middle School principal, was one of the first to hear Weaver that week. Despite a pre-assembly briefing on religious neutrality, Weaver still went further than DeLong expected.

"The worst thing wecould have done was to yank him off the stage at that point," DeLongsaid.

"I cautioned him (to tone down the religion) because he wasspeaking at other schools. In this community, there's a strong belief we should be doing those things, but I can't do it legally."

George Phillips, Key principal, said he got no calls from parents, but that he expected news coverage to stimulate some calls.

"If they haven't called by now, the call is invalid, as far as I'm concerned," he said.

But Evelyn Purvis of New Windsor said she didn't know about the assembly. She and her son, John, a 17-year-old senior at Key, are Jewish.

John Purvis said he would have complained himself to the administration, but his class didn't go to Weaver's talk because itwas mostly for underclassmen.

"I am amazed that this happened," Evelyn Purvis said. "I really find it insulting to the people who are not Christian."

John said the most "appalling thing" was the blankindex card students were given and told they could fill out if they wanted more information sent to them about how God could enter their lives.

The cards were distributed to the five churches and Campus Life, which shared the cost of mailing out a form letter and drug fact sheet from Weaver. The letter had many references to Christ and at the bottom a local name and number from one of the churches.

Another card was given out to students after the assembly. It looked like a football trading card with a color picture of Weaver. On the back was a paragraph about how he found God and stopped drinking.

Mish said the criticism doesn't surprise him, and he purposely did not publicize Weaver's talk beforehand for that reason.

"Every time you stand up for anything like that in the public sector, you're going to get criticized," he said. "I'm talking about spiritual truths that arerevealed in the Bible."

Mish and school board President Cheryl A.McFalls said Weaver didn't preach.

"He shared what happened to him . . . It was not jammed down the kids' throats," Mish said.

However, McFalls said she was concerned about the cards students were invited to fill out.

Phillips said at least a dozen students after the assembly told him they loved it.

"These were kids who are very serious about their Christian faith," Phillips said.

Said Mish, "They tend to be persecuted in schools. Kids who don't do drugs, don't do alcohol, are considered nerds."

Mish said two kinds of people get students' attention -- athletes and pop stars.

"If George Bush had gone in the schools and said Christ had changed his life, it wouldn't have made as much of an impression," Mish said.

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