Visit to school by a Raven sparks some complaints

November 26, 1996|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

A recent assembly at an east Columbia elementary school prompted the Howard County school system and some parents to cry foul when a Baltimore Ravens player passed out religious literature -- in violation of the schools' human rights policy.

Two weeks ago, Brian Kinchen, a Ravens tight end, visited a Stevens Forest Elementary School fifth-grader who was the local winner in the national Take a Player to School contest. After speaking to an assembly of about 100 fourth- and fifth-graders, Kinchen passed out pamphlets with an autographed picture of him in uniform on the cover.

Inside the pamphlet, Kinchen talks about his life, his football career and his relationship with Jesus Christ, and invites the students to "consider God's claim" on their lives. The literature encouraged readers to write to Kinchen at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Louisiana.

The school system has a policy that all information sent home with students must first be reviewed by school officials, but Kinchen didn't notify school officials that he wanted to pass out literature, said Eileen Woodbury, the schools' psychologist for human relations.

Some Stevens Forest parents also charged that the player talked to students about his spiritual beliefs.

But for now, school system officials are concentrating only on the literature Kinchen passed out, because there are varying accounts about what the player said.

According to some parents, Kinchen told the students that Jesus Christ died on the Cross, saved him from his sin and was resurrected from the grave.

"It was absolutely wrong," said Rudy Tortolero, whose son is a fifth-grader at Stevens Forest. "He was there representing the Ravens, not a Christian group."

Woodbury said a visitor would be allowed to discuss religion and its affects on his life, but that "the line was crossed when [Kinchen] gave the students a direct invitation to join him in his specific Christian beliefs."

The school system is preparing a letter to send to the National Football League, the Ravens and the contest's sponsors notifying them of the player's violation of the schools' human rights policy, Woodbury said.

The school system also wants an apology from Kinchen, she said.

The Ravens and school officials said they had received complaints from some parents about the incident.

"This is the first time ever we've had a complaint about Brian, and he's been making appearances for six years," said Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' vice president for public relations.

In a phone interview Friday, Stevens Forest Principal Wilbur Payne said Kinchen didn't talk about his religious beliefs. "I didn't have any problems with what he said," Payne said. "He didn't say anything offensive."

Payne said he had received no complaints from parents, but school system officials say he has sent letters to at least two parents taking responsibility for the incident.

At a PTA meeting the night of Kinchen's visit to the school, Payne told parents that he would take responsibility for the incident, said Vicki Ballard, the PTA's treasurer.

"I don't think it's any big deal," said Ballard, who has two sons at Stevens Forest. "What he said might be against public school rules, but I applaud [Kinchen] for standing up for his beliefs."

Pub Date: 11/26/96

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