Movie revives black college's debate team.
MARSHALL, Texas - The movie "The Great Debaters" made millions aware of the decades-old accomplishments of the debate team at a small historically black college tucked deep in the piney woods of East Texas — and gave that history new life at the school itself.
Before work began on the film, the Wiley College team that broke racial barriers with several impressive victories in the 1930s was a faded memory. When the school received e-mails from debaters all over the country after the movie was released a year ago, there was no team for them to join.
That has changed, thanks to donations including $1 million from the movie's star and director, Denzel Washington. An 11-member team started debating this fall, and its ranks are expected to eventually grow to about 30.........
...........Haywood L. Strickland, the school's president since 2000, said the idea of restarting the program came while the movie crew was doing research on the campus. He said Washington's donation, helped jump-start its revival.
"We're always looking for ways in which to engage and excite students," he said. "It occurred to us that even though it's something built on history, it's been demonstrated this is a good way to get students involved."
Debate coach Shannon LaBove came to Wiley over the summer.
She whittled down the prospects to a team of 11, all of whom got some kind of scholarship.
The new team did an exhibition debate at Oklahoma City University in October to commemorate the 1931 meeting between the two teams, believed to have been the first interracial debate in the South.
"We have to make our own history, while respecting the previous," LaBove said.
She said this is a building year for the team, but she expects it to be nationally competitive within a couple of years.
"I think we want to once again put Wiley on the map as a force to be reckoned with," she said.
The primarily liberal arts university, founded in 1873, has 967 students and its enrollment has been climbing for the last eight years. It's located in Marshall, a town of about 24,000 not far from the Louisiana state line.
Public speaking and debate was one of those activities that I was forced to take as a kid in school.
Had absolutely no appreciation for it than but I think the world of it now as I see signs of that experience pop up in my life.
I am glad to see it make a come back in the college the movie was based on, and that Denzel continues to show why he is a class act.