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When I initiated Liberty University in 1971, I announced that I intended for the school to become one of our nation’s great institutions of higher learning. I immediately strove to create an environment of excellence in terms of academics, world outreach and athletics.
Thirty-four years later, Liberty is the home of nearly 8,000 resident students (with more than 13,000 studying at Liberty through external programs). God has placed His hand of blessing on this university and has allowed it to thrive in ways I never could have imagined when we opened our doors with 154 students in 1971.
Today, as I write this column, yet another astonishing event has taken place at Liberty, with the entire sports world casting a spotlight on our women’s basketball team.
The Lady Flames, after knocking off Penn State University and DePaul University in the first two rounds of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, have advanced to the Sweet 16. The tournament is known as “the Big Dance,” and we often joke here at Liberty that it is the only dance our students are allowed to attend.
And we’re dancing joyously this week!
The Lady Flames will face off against Louisiana State University, the nation’s top-ranked team, on Saturday at noon in a nationally televised game on ESPN. While our girls are celebrating what they’ve accomplished thus far, they fully expect to win this game, too. And many people are starting to believe!
While the national press is calling this a Cinderella story, I beg to disagree. This is simply another miraculous event in the ongoing miracle of Liberty University.
I wish I could introduce all of the Lady Flames team members to my readers. They are a group of committed Christians who place their greatest priority on glorifying God. Head Coach Carey Green calls the commitment to honoring God “the greatest motivator for winning.”
After winning the Big South Conference championship nine years in a row, Liberty entered this year’s NCAA Tournament with the awareness that they had, for eight straight years, never been able to win a game at the NCAA Tournament.
But it has been apparent for several weeks now that there is something different about this team. Our five seniors – All American candidate Katie Feenstra, Daina Staugaitiene, Rima Margeviciute, Kristal Tharp and Stephanie Walker – were determined not to end their college careers bearing the albatross of never winning an NCAA Tournament game.
The team has rallied around these five girls and Coach Green, and the results have been astounding. At the opening tip-off of the Penn State game, I could detect a fire in the eyes of our players that I had never observed. And that fire continues as they head off to, as they believe, slay another giant on Saturday.
All week, ESPN, USA Today and many other major media outlets have focused on our team’s achievement. As the chancellor of Liberty – and the university’s No. 1 sports fan – my heart has soared as the Lady Flames have reached this new milestone. But more importantly, I am exceedingly proud of the girls as they recurrently give praise and thanks to God for allowing them to reach this great accomplishment.
Following the DePaul game, an ESPN announcer asked 6-foot, 8-inch center Katie Feenstra – who quite literally could have played basketball anywhere in the country – why she chose to attend Liberty. She replied, “Why not Liberty?” Katie went on to explain that she felt God had directed her to this school and that she has enjoyed the solid Christian environment that Liberty offers.
While the Lady Flames are deservedly in the national limelight, the fact is that Liberty is comprised of thousands of lesser-known students who are also here to learn, grow and prepare for future ministry in a variety of future roles. We now have more than 70,000 alumni spread across this globe that are impacting their communities and boldly living out their faith.
And all across the world, Liberty alumni and friends of the university are closely following this remarkable story as the Lady Flames illustrate to the world what a special place Liberty is.
Please join me in praying for our team as they take on LSU on Saturday. May the Lord continue to be magnified as we carry on with this special dance at Liberty University.