Kansas City, Mo Republican vice presidential hopeful Dick Cheney gave the Fellowship of Christian Athletes a boost, organization officials said Tuesday, when he chose the group's national headquarters as the site for a speech on teaching character in schools.
"For us, it's a clear recognition of the impact that we are having," said Kevin Harlan, the Fellowship's executive vice president. "I think he sees FCA as a key faith-based organization for instilling character in the lives of students."
Cheney's appearance Tuesday morning gave the FCA a national platform to speak on such subjects as its "One Way 2 Play -- Drug Free," program. It asks young athletes to sign cards pledging to abstain from alcohol and other drugs -- and to be accountable to each other for that pledge.
"We have national marketing reps, but what happened today -- we could not pay for that kind of exposure," said Carey Casey, an FCA vice president who heads up that program. "God has really smiled on us, to allow this to happen."
Cheney's familiarity with the program was a pleasant surprise, Casey said.
"A lot of people need extensive briefings on the subject," he said, "But Secretary Cheney, for lack of better words, had all of his ducks in a row."
High school junior Erika Garris, who is active in her school's FCA chapter and has signed the "One Way 2 Play" pledge, also said she was glad for Cheney's recognition of the organization.
"I think it was great for publicity," said Erika, a track and field athlete at Knob Noster High School in western Missouri. "A man of high standards coming to support a great organization like this will definitely help to recruit more students, and maybe even adults."
And Mike Sweeney, the Kansas City Royals' All-Star first baseman, called Cheney's speech "awesome" and added, "come November, I know where I'm going to vote.
"He's taken a stand, and shown me where his heart is," said Sweeney, who is active in the Kansas City chapter of the FCA. "It's not just about saying something, it's about going out and doing."
Harlan, however, stressed that while Cheney encouraged people to vote for Texas Gov. George W. Bush for president, Tuesday's visit was less about politics than about organizations like the FCA.
"It was them asking to come here, and really to endorse us," he said. "This wasn't about us endorsing any one party. This is about us having the opportunity to communicate the importance of building character.
"I think the recognition of the value of faith-based organizations cuts across party lines," Harlan said. "I think this is a clear recognition of what faith-based organizations can do, and the need to have them involved in community service."
The FCA has more than 300,000 members in more than 7,000 schools nationwide, Harlan said.