What do you get when you mix 16 world-class strongmen, a few dozen concrete blocks, and the "uncompromised message of salvation through Jesus Christ"?
Yeah, we thought it sounded like the makings of an extreme wrestling federation with host Pat Robertson, too. Instead, this unusual cocktail of muscle and might (we're talking about the God kind here) represents the foundation of the Strength Team, a Missoula-based ministry of steel-bending, brick-busting supermen who seem to be all the rage at public schools across the country.
You heard us. For more than five years, the Strength Team has traveled around the United States holding motivational assemblies for America's youth—750 in 2005 alone. They break stuff, then talk about positive attitudes. They may strip the religious overtones from their message during school presentations, but we're still struck by the fact that a group founded on an "evangelistic crusade," as the Strength Team's website states, has been so prominently featured by state-funded institutions.
One of the Strength Team's latest local appearances came last Wednesday at Paxson Elementary. Interim Principal Kelly Chumrau confirms she spoke with one parent after the assembly who voiced concern about the event. Chumrau maintains she found the Strength Team appropriate.
"I wouldn't have invited them if I thought they'd be sharing a faith message," Chumrau says.
But this isn't the first time a parent has questioned the appropriateness of the Strength Team's presence in public schools. A November 2009 article in the Vail Daily addressed the group's visit to Brush Creek Elementary in Eagle County, Colo. During the Brush Creek assembly, members of the Strength Team reportedly promoted a separate event at a local high school that evening—one where a presenter discussed creationism and asked the audience to pray.
That promotion prompted the Eagle County Schools to draft a letter to the Strength Team, requesting they refrain from making such statements during future presentations. Chumrau says the group made no such promotions during the assembly at Paxson Elementary.
The Strength Team has won rave reviews from school administrators in Missoula, Great Falls, Butte and Dillon—to name a few. And they're certainly deserving of a glowing reputation. Before his career breaking bats for converts, Strength Team Founder Mike Hagen played fullback for the University of Montana, the Seattle Seahawks and two United States Football League teams.
We don't doubt the positive message of "goals and dreams" these priestly powerhouses offer. We're just naturally skeptical of any group's attempts to water down their core beliefs. How does the saying go? You can take the boy out of the church, but you can't take the church out of the boy.