Riley Israel is the event director for The Power Team, a fundamentalist ministry of athletes performing in churches and schools around the country. According to Israel, school presentations are secular, focusing on personal attributes including character development and abstinence from drugs and alcohol.
ALBANY, Ga. -- The burly gentleman in front of you has just ripped an auto license plate in half with his bare hands, snapped a baseball bat, bent a steel bar almost double and inflated a hot-water bottle like a child's party balloon. Does he have your attention?
That's the first thing the Power Team of Dallas aims to achieve in its school and church presentations throughout the country, according to Riley Israel, a Power Team member since 2002 and a former Americus resident.
"Through the years, we've discovered that once we have (students') attention we can get a message into their hearts," Israel said. "That message is about living a life of excellence, having integrity, improving character, personal achievement and avoiding drug and alcohol abuse. We also address suicide, health and nutrition."
Israel is the Power Team's event director, a self-described frontman for the team. He's also an evangelist for the Christian-oriented Power Team ministry.
In October, several team members will conduct a five-night evangelistic presentation of dynamic feats of human strength at First Free Will Baptist Church in Albany. Prior to the event, Israel and church Student Minister Matt Hallman will talking to students in Dougherty, Lee, Terrell and possibly Worth counties to arrange daytime shows, Israel said. Hallman has recently been acting as a liaison between area schools and the Power Team organization.
The team was formed in 1975 by John Jacobs, who resigned as president in 2003 after filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on behalf of his ministry, as well as chapter 7 personal bankruptcy. Since his resignation, the Power Team has been led by new president Todd Keene.
The Power Team organization ministry remains a fundamentalist group of some 25-30 athletic performers who, according to team officials, believe the Bible to be the inspired and authoritative word of God, without error in the original writings.
At host churches, team members perform their power feats while delivering their Christian message. In part because of First Amendment restrictions, school presentations are necessarily secular. Just the same, the Power Team is not without criticism for allegedly advertising the more spectacular church presentations at the school shows -- or at least talking them up. To some, such promotion could violate the concept of separation of church and state.
According to Hallman, no religious discussion takes place in the course of any school presentation. He did say that the Christian-oriented church program would probably be mentioned, and also that baseball-type cards with time and location of the church event printed at the bottoms might be given free to students if allowed by participating school boards. Hallman said the Dougherty County School Board is currently in the process of considering the cards.
"Getting kids to the church program is not the primary objective of the Power Team," Israel said. "Our main purpose is to bring positive, motivating life messages to the students in all those schools, basically encouraging them to go after their dreams. Even if the church were to cancel, we would still perform in the schools."
For information concerning the Power Team or the First Free Will Baptist October event, call (229) 436-4021.