Ready for some red-hot competition from the top college teams in the country? No, we don't mean March Madness. In this week's Assignment America, Steve Hartman reports on something a little more … refined.
This is a story more about making a point than scoring one.
Hartman was the entire reception committee when the Liberty University debate team returned to campus in Lynchburg, Va., after winning their national title.
"It's a big deal, and being a big deal is a big deal," says Lauren Zowastouski, one of the team's 32 members. Their coach, Brett O'Donnell, recruits high schoolers just like any college football or basketball coach does.
Following the speeches in a college debate can be difficult. The first part of the competition is simply making as many good points as you can — quickly. It doesn't matter how you say it, just as long as you get it on the record. Debaters on this year's topic — U.S.-China relations — can sound like they're channeling their inner Porky Pig.
O'Donnell says Liberty is a debate powerhouse mostly because the school's founder insists on it.
"We have a large coaching staff," he says. "We have an extensive travel budget."
But why the school's founder insists on it may be the most interesting part of all.
His name: Rev. Jerry Falwell.
For Falwell, Liberty's debate program is about a lot more than bragging rights. It's about winning the culture war, once and for all. Most of these kids will become lawyers, and lawyers become judges.
When Hartman asked a group of debaters which of them would like to see the Roe Vs. Wade abortion decision reversed, a lot of hands went up. Those hands stayed up when he asked whether they would reverse the decision if put in a chance to do so.
"These young people, for the rest of their lives, will be God's spokespersons," Falwell says.
Liberty is just one of a number of Christian colleges that now focus on debate. They're turning out graduates who aren't the least bit afraid to talk religion. In fact, they say, bring it on.
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